It’s a cold and wet January in Berkeley — gray skies and gloomy days. There is a bite to the air when one walks outside, a bitter chill that is quite uncomfortable without a warm jacket. The January we see here shows a severe contrast to the hot and humid Costa Rican January.
In Costa Rica, the sun shines bright, things move a little slower and you feel a bit closer to the land you are walking on. It is a place where they say “pura vida” — “pure life,” “simple life” — in every town you enter. The rhythm of Costa Rica felt simplistic and grounded. The country seemed to follow a steady and tranquil beat.
During my time there, I saw quite a few different places. La Fortuna, a small town northwest of the capital, was the first major stop on this trip. Surrounding the town is rainforest. There are a couple of strong streams running through the town. On the outskirts of La Fortuna, there is the Tabacón River, which comprises of the hot springs that mark the foot of the Arenal Volcano.
Although the elevation of La Fortuna is high, it is still hot. There were a couple of intense downpours during the few days I was in La Fortuna, but for the most part, it was sunny with a couple fluffy clouds. A rain jacket in Costa Rica, however, will definitely come in handy. Of the places I visited, this is one I would declare a must-see! La Fortuna’s rainforest and waterfalls were absolutely breathtaking. There were countless iguanas, a few spider monkeys, a couple of sloths, infinite lizards, snakes, hawks and so on. I was traveling with a wildlife biologist, so being in the rainforest with her was lucky (if you ever have the opportunity to go to Costa Rica with a wildlife biologist, DO IT)! On top of seeing the animals, we saw different plant species. The most striking tree is the balsa tree, which is very tall, thin and hollow with leaves that look like green splat marks.
Everywhere I traveled in the country was by bus. When I say “bus,” I do not mean the private shuttle that many tourists choose to take, but instead, the local bus system that many locals use daily. Costa Rica is a small country, but there are not many quick routes to get from point A to point B, especially when taking the bus. The roads were thin and curvy, but the views were delectable. These rides allow you to see more of the gorgeous, lush, green land of Costa Rica. By taking the bus, you get the opportunity to interact with the locals, which is always a plus when looking for spots to go to or things to do.
Speaking of spots to go to and things to do, while in Costa Rica during early January, I would recommend the Pacific coast side. If you are looking to escape a cold or wet season, that is where you want to go. Being on the hot Pacific coast is where I really found my light.
On the Pacific coast, I found myself in Jacó, which is a colorful beach and party town. For those looking for some nightlife, this is the perfect spot. In the day, it is relatively mellowed out, full of “pura vida” surf culture. In Jacó, I surfed for the first time. It was a great place to learn because the waters are not too rough with substantial waves to practice on. Just as night rolls around, parakeets seemingly come out of nowhere and line the street wires. It is quite a site to see, especially in juxtaposition to the bar and club-goers. Jacó would not be my go-to spot in Costa Rica (I preferred La Fortuna since it is accessible to more activities), but it was still a joy.
Just a bit further down the coast, you hit a town by the name of Quepos, known as the gateway to Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio has a national park that is known for being the most biodiverse location in Costa Rica.
The beaches in Manuel Antonio had me in complete awe. The water was nearly a clear blue, and the white sand may have been the softest surface my feet had ever met. The ocean was warm, and you could see capuchin monkeys hanging out in the trees. These monkeys will steal your things, so be mindful.
In addition to the impressive beaches, both Manuel Antonio and Quepos had some of the most memorable locals. The locals were down to chill out and play. Yes, play. This may be because Manuel Antonio attracts so many tourists that for locals, interacting with visitors is a part of local life. A guy that my travel partner and I met even took us to his local neighborhood half an hour north of Quepos within a small town known as Londres. It was here we went on an extensive and glorious hike to his favorite waterfall jumping spots. We also dabbled in some rock painting, and he was sure to teach us about the different plant species we were walking by. Spending an unplanned day with a local was definitely a trip highlight and an experience I would recommend.
Costa Rica was an excellent place to visit during winter break. In addition to the stunning landscape and people, I found myself having a wonderful time practicing Spanish. Spending two weeks there was the perfect way to start 2020 and a great remedy away from the hectic UC Berkeley lifestyle.
So if you are seeking lush beauty, immense biodiversity, summer in winter, tranquil vibes and a place to practice your Spanish, and you love to be outdoors, I would say you should send it to Costa Rica.
In conclusion to this hearty post, my tips would be to pack light, especially if you are moving around the country (I brought a small backpack for two weeks), eat at local food spots (a “soda”—make sure to eat gallo pinto while you’re there) or cook if you have the chance (pick up food from local markets, not supermarkets), befriend locals, wake up early, take the local buses and research ethical ecotourism before you go! Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray, a rain jacket, sandals and hiking shoes.
Let the sun revive you. Let the humidity cleanse you. And let your spirit fly free.
Contact Gina Wright [email protected].