Matt and I only had a short amount of vacation time available to us this Spring and we knew we wanted to spend it somewhere warm. As we were checking prices for airline tickets we continuously found inexpensive round-trip tickets to Costa Rica. Neither of us had been and we heard it was pure paradise. Click, click, click – booked! A month or two later we found the perfect bungalow-style house to rent on the Pacific side of the country, near the town of Jaco. This was our second time booking a house through HomeAway and we were impressed once again.
We set out early on a Tuesday morning and picked up our car outside the airport at the rental car agency.
When Matt and I travel internationally we typically buy a SIM card at the airport with a cheap data plan and use my phone as a GPS. That was our plan in Costa Rica but they were out of SIM cards at the airport. We weren’t about to pay $15 a day for a GPS in our rental car so we pulled out the old school map and found our way out of downtown San Jose! It was actually surprisingly easy to get around and after only one wrong turn we were on the highway and headed toward the coast.
We had originally planned on picking up a quick bite to eat at the airport but there were no shops or restaurants in the airport where customs was located so we figured we would simply grab something after we picked up the rental car. Unfortunately it took close to two hours to go through customs and another hour to negotiate with the rental car agency so we were pretty famished by the time we got on the road. We quickly found a restaurant and were going to go in and grab food but alas, the car wouldn’t lock! We had all our bags inside so Matt decided he would simply run in and grab something and we could eat on the road. This was a perfect plan except the restaurant was sit down only. Such luck! I am famously known for always carrying snacks so thankfully we had some Kind bars and nuts to snack on but it was nearing 3:00PM and we hadn’t eaten since 8:30AM. We traveled onward toward our house since we were meeting the caretaker at 4:30PM. Food would have to wait.
Despite how hungry we were we couldn’t miss stopping at the famous Rio Tarcoles crocodile bridge. You simply pull over on the side of the road and walk on the tiny ledge to the middle of the bridge, look down, and be amazed!
We made our way to the house, met with the caretaker and then immediately hopped back in the car in search for food. We headed to the town of Jaco, which was about a ten minute drive from us but is a fairly large town so we knew they would have plenty of choices. We found ourselves at a tourist trap taco bar but they had cold beer, swings for seats and we could have cared less about the quality of food at that point!
We wandered around a bit before hopping back in the car and finding a grocery store to stock up on some essentials. We had originally planned on cooking dinner one or two nights but unfortunately that didn’t happen. The grocery ended up being more like a Wal-Mart with very few food options so we just picked up some fruit and headed home. Later in the week we found some smaller grocery stores in town (along with hundreds of roadside stands) that offered many different food choices so next time we go back we’ll be better prepared. I always pack instant oatmeal packets with me when I travel for emergency breakfast situations. They saved us in Italy where finding a place open for breakfast was nigh impossible and we were a solid 20 minute drive from the closest city center. They also came in handy in Costa Rica, although everyone rises early there and finding a breakfast nook was very easy. Jaco alone had multiple restaurants that catered to the breakfast crowd and most sodas served breakfast early in the mornings as well. It may not be your typical ‘American’ breakfast but it will get you through until lunch!
After picking up a to-go casado at a local restaurant for second dinner, we headed home to rest our tired bodies and prepare for our first full day!
Our first morning was spent lounging around on our front porch, drinking coffee and listening to all the different birds.
The sun rises very early in Costa Rica and our bodies were still operating on East Coast time so we were up around 5:00AM! It was nice to get outside and enjoy the fresh air before the sun got too hot. Our house sat off a dirt road and had a beautiful front yard filled with all sorts of plants and trees including a coconut tree and a banana tree.
Our first stop of the day was Playa Esterillos where a famous mermaid statue is erected in the ocean. At high tide the statue looks as though it’s in the middle of the ocean but since we visited at low tide it was easier to see how they managed to get it out there.
The weather was cloudy our first day but we didn’t mind since Matt and I were both ghostly pale and appreciated the added protection from direct sunlight! We spent about two hours exploring Playa Esterillos before heading into town for lunch.
Jaco has a million restaurants and the city center is always bustling with locals, tourists and surfers. We found a small restaurant tucked back in an alley that looked pretty sketchy – just our type of place! Sure enough, the food was incredible. They only served tacos so I snagged the tacos al pastor while Matt went with the fish tacos.
We topped off lunch with some coconut ice cream at the local ice cream shop and then wandered down to Playa Jaco, which is one of the more crowded and popular beaches near us. Since it was a Wednesday there weren’t many people out but there were many hotels and resorts that butted up to the beach so I could see where the weekends would get busy.
When we arrived in Costa Rica we didn’t have much planned out and only had a few items of interest that we really wanted to see and do. We purposely wanted to relax and go with the flow – see where the days led us! However, we were not expecting for it to take us a day and a half to actually feel relaxed and begin truly letting go. The day we arrived was quite hectic and stressful and we weren’t mentally prepared for how taxing the day turned out to be. Neither of us spoke Spanish very well – Matt can speak some whereas I resort to accidentally answering in French, Italian or some other random language – and we didn’t feel truly comfortable and relaxed until halfway through the trip. Once we let go of our worries and truly embraced the pura vida state of mind we really did feel the stress begin to melt away! I clearly remember when I started to feel the release and vowed to hold onto that feeling when we returned to the hustle and bustle of our lives in D.C.
It was pouring down rain when we headed out to dinner that night but we found a cozy table at The Green Room and settled in for some live music and incredible seafood dishes.
While there was zero wine drinking done in Costa Rica, we did have our fair share of the local brews and were pleasantly surprised at the emerging beer scene in Jaco! After dinner we were already feeling more relaxed (beer helps!) and ready to catch some zzz’s in preparation for another exciting day…