February 16, 2022

Notes on my Costa Rica trip

I handed in my resignation for my previous job in November 2021, and asked for my new contract not to start until March 2022. This meant that I had January and February completely free. I decided to use a large part of this on a 23-day vacation in Costa Rica, and would like to share some thoughts on the whole thing.

The goal of my trip was mostly to just soak in the sun and beach, and hopefully meet some interesting people on the way. Covid restrictions made the latter part a little bit difficult because technically/legally, bars need to give you a table, sitting at the bar counter isn't allowed. A few places did find ways to circumvent this or simply took the risk of getting caught, but it's noticeable how the atmosphere changes when people become unsure if it's okay to just sit at the bar. This fuels into my advice for others who want to travel and meet people: Book a hostel, and book group activities as soon as possible.

General advice

Where to stay

If you're solo travelling and want to mingle with other travellers, book hostels. Many of them have private rooms, which does mean they're even more expensive than low end hotels, but this is totally worth it for the sake of mingling with others in lobbies, hallways, and the hostel bar. Selina is a very reputable one (one of my hosts described it as "the hotel chain for millenials" and I don't think he was entirely wrong), but you can typically just browse Hostelworld.

If you are flexible with dates and are okay with moving from place to place a lot (packing light helps a lot with this), it's absolutely possible to just show up in a town and figure out where to stay by walking door to door (maybe except the most popular destinations during peak season: around Christmas and New Years). It was surprising to see how empty many hotels looked despite me being starved for options on sites like Booking.

Travel and activities

Book group trips/activities as soon as possible. There might not be demand enough to do the ones you want every day, so you'll be put on a waiting list until there are enough of you - the earlier you book, the better chances you have of getting to do them. Furthermore, you'll want to meet people through these activities early, so you can go out for dinner or drinks later on - you may miss this opportunity if you do activities the last day of your stay.

Walk on the street of the town you're staying in and talk to the tour companies in person, they'll be able to figure things out with you much better than you can yourself by browsing online. For example, they might tell you that one activity is unlikely to go through this week because it's not very popular, but another one is more likely. (This is obviously not an issue if you're a larger group of people.)

In addition to public transport, taxis, and renting cars, there's a large network of semi-public transport which is operated or at least mediated by tour guide companies. For example, using public transport from Jacó to Santa Teresa is a 6-8 hour adventure with at least 4 switches, and even by car it can easily take 3-6 hours (partly because of a ferry you might have to wait for). However, Zuma Tours operates a taxi boat to Montezuma and will organize shared minibus taxis for the last stage to/from your accomodation - it took me 3 hours in total. Interbus, Tropical Tour Shuttles, and Caribe Shuttle are other companies doing similar things. Their websites are pretty bad, but you can often just send them an email instead. These are just a few examples - use Google and ask around in the town you're in to find out what the most efficient/convenient way to get from town to town is.

Maybe this is just coming from my perspective as a Northern European person, but I was shocked at how helpful everyone was. If you send an email to a tour company, they reply immediately. If they don't provide the service you ask for, they're happy to suggest alternatives or even refer you to another competing company! Don't assume that you have to research a bunch on your own, compare alternatives and whatnot - just go out and ask people. If they do provide the service you need, they go out of their way to help you, so don't be afraid of asking for anything. While things do tend to run a bit late every now and then, everything seemed very reliable.

Bigger towns have Uber drivers, but regular taxis are also very affordable. There's also a sort of impromptu carpooling network called "colectivos", where regular cars will drive up and down the main street(s) of the town and simply pick up anyone who signals that or seems like they could use a ride. This seemed safe enough during daytime, but I'd be more hesitant at night-time or if I was a woman.

There are two international airports in Costa Rica: San José (very central) and Liberia (further west). Keep in mind that while Liberia may be more convenient for you, it's also smaller and less popular, so you might have a harder time finding a shared shuttle compared to San José. Send the shuttle companies an email or visit their offices to get a feel for what they can offer.

Costa Rica is a spread out country with lots to offer outside the main towns. I think the best way to explore the country is with your own car. It should be 4 wheel drive, and it will get extremely dirty. Unfortunately I didn't have a driver's licence at the time of my trip so this wasn't even an option, but travelling alone it would've been too expensive to rent one anyway.

Internet and communication

Mobile internet was decent most places I went. Some places didn't have cellular connection, but these were very small local pockets - usually solved by walking 2 minutes to the beach or a more open plaza. My provider (KPN) does have really steep pricing for mobile internet outside of EU: €2.5 per megabyte! I could pay €40 for 500MB (or minutes or SMSes but I don't use either of those) which still felt like not enough, but a much better deal at least. I turned on Android's data saver and made sure to disable mobile data any time I didn't need it.

Every restaurant, cafe, and accomodation I went to had wifi available, though some of them didn't work - DHCP failures were extremely common, I once successfully convinced the bartender to simply restart the router and that fixed the issue. For this reason, if you choose where to work remotely, choose somewhere with 4G available as a backup in case the wifi drops.

I thought about buying a prepaid SIM purely for internet purposes, but ended up not needing it in the end. Everyone uses WhatsApp, even for business purposes, so any time you need to organize anything you simply need to temporarily enable your mobil data, or order a coffee/smoothie/beer at the nearest restaurant and ask for the wifi password.

What to bring

If you're travelling from Europe, bring a US power socket adapter - if you have to buy it in Costa Rica it will likely be much more expensive than necessary. In addition to the differnce in plugs, the power grid is also 120V instead of 220-240V. Some devices that don't have a plug/charger which includes a transistor might not work with 120V - for example, my electric toothbrush couldn't charge, while my laptop and electric shaver were fine.

As long as you bring clothes that don't soak up sweat and start stinking (i.e. avoid pure cotton and tight fits), you'll be surprised how few clothes you can get by with. I only really switched out of my swimming shorts when I went for dinner (and even then, not always), if taking a longer bus ride, and if going for a hike. There are laundromats in every town, and some accomodations will be happy to let the cleaning staff do laundry for you.

There's also a second layer to this: The nicer you dress, the more likely you are to be approached by people trying to sell you things, and you're more likely to be charged more for services that don't have an up-front price.

I way overpacked for this trip. In the future, I'll only bring a large backpack and a small beach bag. I'll want sneakers that double as light hiking shoes, good/comfy sandals that can survive being drenched in seawater, a few T-shirts and tanktops, a few sets of underwear, and one set of long trousers + a sweater for airplane travel. Towels, sunscreen and aloe vera gel (for the inevitable sunburn) are obviously must-haves. Books take more room in your luggage than a Kindle or a Switch.

There were several things I wish I'd thought of bringing with me: A thermos (to keep your water cold), a waterproof bag for my phone (and other electronics), a small umbrella (even along the coast there can be short rain showers).


Tap water was drinkable everywhere I went. In one place it tasted noticeably of chlorine, but last time I stayed in Rome had worse tap water, so I wouldn't complain.

I was able to find Melatonin and CBD oil in pharmacies to deal with the jet lag going back. 17:00 in Costa Rica is midnight in (central) Europe, so if your flight is around that time and you manage to fall asleep, you'll be okay.

Places I went to


Jacó is a bit of a trashy town. You might not want to go there unless you're really into casinos, dingy night clubs, drugs and prostitutes. That being said, it it the most easily accessible beach from San José, which means there are plenty of shops, restaurants and people there (including locals). The neighboring beach, Playa Hermosa, is infamous for surfing - world championships take place there. You're also driving distance to Manuel Antonio, one of the country's most well-known parks. It's so popular, it was fully booked weeks in advance by the time I got around to asking. El Miro/Mirador is a small hike with a great view of Jacó, just on the south end of town.

There are plenty of good beach-front places for food and drinks. El Point, Malecón, and Aloha were standouts. Soda Garabito and Tacos Locos were my favorite places to go for food. The Beer House became my go-to place for drinks and hanging out. It's a very well hidden place with craft beer (prices are accordingly high) with lots of more laid-back travellers and expats.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is probably my favorite of the places I visited. It really captures a central american village "feeling", despite clearly being well developed. I think this is what captures a lot of the surfer/yoga crowd, alongside the great waves. It does feel a little bit hipster and pretentious, but not really in a bad way.

The beach is beautiful, long and wide - it alone made the trip worth it. I walked there for 2-4 hours every day, often stopping to let the scenery sink in. Montezuma waterfalls and Capo Blanco national park are great nearby trips.

Kapara was my favorite place to eat, but they're only open for lunch. Bali Beach Deli and Eat Street became my go-to places for breakfast because they was close to me, but Soda La Amistad and Ani's Bowls were also great. El Corazon (all vegetarian, small dishes), The Rambler (international selection) and OSA were good choices for dinner. There were many restaurants I didn't have a chance to visit, a lot of the ones I walked by had actually good live music every day.

The worst thing about Santa Teresa is, I think, that the beach side bars are horribly overpriced. One Saturday night, in two separate bars, we were served cocktails with barely any alcohol in them. The food was also disappointing on the beach fronts - the only exception was Manzu, which is very upscale/fancy (go for lunch and check out the beach/pool menu, it's generally more affordable).

It was also disappointing how few plain bars there were - Kooks was the only one where it felt like you could just hang out and have drinks (they also do great American barbecue). My theory is that people don't go here to party, they go to surf or just chill - and for that I can't argue that Santa Teresa is perfect for exactly that.


I stayed at Tamarindo from January 10 to 14. Funny story here - I was originally going to stay here until the 19th to attend the BPM festival, but it got cancelled due to new COVID restrictions right as I arrived. I thought I'd be stuck in a town known mostly for its parties but without any partying - however, it turned out I forgot to book my last hotel here, and the middle stay was refundable. This would've been embarassing on Monday, showing up but not actually having a reservation, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I got to leave town early and do a few more things that I had regretted skipping anyway.

Tamarindo has a weird mix of young party-goers and pensioners/families at all-inclusive hotels - it gives the town a weird, kind of paradoxical vibe.

The beach bars/restaurants here are good, although their food is still overpriced. You can walk past most of them in 10 minutes and choose your favorite based on music, how they decorate, or simply how many people are there. None of them really stood out to me.

La Kitchen ended up being my favorite place to eat overall - they are open all day, have a lovely atomsphere, friendly staff and simple but delicious food. I went to Cafe Tico almost every day for breakfast, they have a huge menu and everything I had was tasty. Green Papaya (tacos) and La Bodega (sandwiches, salads, bowls) were great for lunch. There are a couple of food courts which look very cool, but the food I had there tasted of nothing (though it was at least cheap).


Monteverde is a rather large area, in which Santa Elena is the biggest town. I stayed in an adorable Airbnb near the center. The house alone was enough to give me the feeling of being lost in the forest, which is all I could ever ask for, really. The area itself is wonderful, but it does require effort one way or another to find the really eye-catching parts.

The area is extremely hilly, so if you intend to walk anywhere, expect your calves to be busted. Usually you want to go by car/bus when going uphill (i.e. away from Santa Elena), but walking back down is usually doable (but maybe a little bit boring). There's a free public transport bus that goes from Santa Elena to the cloud forest reserve, which departs 5 times a day (ask at the station when, the information I found online turned out to be incorrect). If you miss it, it's usually easy to find available and cheap taxis in Santa Elena to take you everywhere - the other way around is a bit more difficult, so talk to the driver, get their phone number, and let them know when they might pick you up going back.

I went to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (just on my own, I was too late to get a guided tour unfortunately), Sky Adventures Monteverde ziplining and guided tour, and a night time guided tour. Sky Adventures was the best, but also most expensive, of the things I did. In the future I'd probably go for some more obscure options. Extremo ziplines comes to mind, and I'd look for guided actual hikes that take you off the main paths.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is a town near the volcano Arenal. It's most famous for its hot springs, around which there are literally dozens of spas/resorts/hotels. I just went to a hot spring that was in a public nature area - as long as you bring water shoes or are comfortable walking on slippery rocks, it's not a big deal. Ultimately though, it's just hot springs.

Being at the end of my vacation I was basically too lazy to do anything else, but I would've liked to do rafting or go for hikes - either to one of the waterfalls or to the volcano base itself.

The town feels a bit more americanized for some reason. There is one main street, but things are generally more spread out.

Soda Sabored Lulu was my favorite place overall here - feels like someone took their house and simply added an outdoors kitchen to it and started selling (simple but really tasty) food out of it, moreso than any other soda I've been to. El Jardin de Frida would be my choice for lunch (though it is on the main street, so somewhat noisy), and La Fortuna Pub is a low-key place for drinks. I also had great coffee at Arabigos Coffee House. I heard great things about Don Rufino, but wasn't really interested in expensive fine dining.

Places I didn't go but wish I did

I would've loved to do road trips, either starting around Tamarindo going south, or starting in Jacó going east. I genuinely believe that the most beautiful experiences are made in small villages that aren't (easily) accessible by public transport.

The east coast would also be fun to explore - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is famous, and you can supposedly cross the border to Panama and explore nice part of the coast there.

In terms of hikes, as mentioned before, I'd like to do more remote hikes, the ones without well-maintained paths. I don't have any specific ideas here, but considering how full Costa Rica is of beautiful landscapes, I'm sure there must be other good resources out there.