48 Hours in Costa Ricaby david daly on 11/21/11
I receive more inquiries about Costa Rica than any other destination. To say that Costa Rica is a popular spot these days is an understatement and it seems that everyone has it on their short list of places they want to visit. Last year the country welcomed a record 2.1 million visitors in search of sun, sand, adventure, and the ecotourism. The once sleepy Liberia airport in the Pacific northwest region of the country is about to introduce a shiny and modern new terminal to help ease overcrowding at the dilapidated tin hut that currently serves as the countrys second international airport.
This was my second visit to Costa Rica and my first time exploring the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast, just south of the border with Nicaragua. Back in August Continental had a huge fare sale on flights from NYC to Liberia, and I scooped up tickets for $285 for a long weekend escape. Since everyone seems to be obsessed with Costa Rica these days, it was not hard to convince Ben and my friend Erica to join me on this whirlwind adventure. I assured my companions that we would stick to a budget and pack as much adventure as possible into our 48 hour visit.
For accommodation I chose Hotel La Finisterra on Playa Hermosa. This was an easy choice since the Tripadvisor reviews unanimously raved about the hotels amazing views, nice beach, and friendly service. We paid $128 per night for a triple room with stunning sea views, and a delicious traditional Costa Rican breakfast was included each day. They also threw in a $25 food voucher, but since the hotels restaurant was a bit pricier than surrounding places- the $25 mainly went towards 2 for 1 beers at evening happy hour.
Liberia airport is relatively close to Guanacaste and it is less than 30 minutes from the terminal to the beach, however cab rates are absurdly expensive at $70 each way. It was significantly cheaper and remarkably easier to rent a small SUV for our visit, complete with a GPS, for $95. I highly recommend that travelers rent a car when visiting Costa Rica in order to experience the sights and activities at their own pace and convenience. We were able to save an additional $30 each by driving ourselves to the canopy tour 10 km down the road versus scheduling a pickup at the hotel, and we were able to take advantage of shopping for groceries and driving to cheap restaurants during the trip.
CANOPY TOUR Our first activity on Day 2 was a zipline canopy tour through the rain forest. Ziplines are very popular in Costa Rica and despite my crippling fear of heights, it became evident that Ben and Ericas enthusiasm for dangling on a cable at high speeds was going to make it impossible for me to avoid this activity. We chose the Congo Canopy Tour and paid $35 each for a 90 minute thrill ride across 9 ziplines ranging in length from about 200 to 2000 feet, all at death defying heights. Our guides quickly picked up on my vulnerable fear of heights and seized every opportunity to pretend that we were about to die. While Erica and Ben attempted upside down maneuvers and show-off routines, I clenched my harness and gripped the brake with superhuman force. The group consensus believed that the canopy tour was fun and exhilarating and not to be missed, though my opinion was cast aside as an outlier.
FUN WITH GPS After narrowly surviving the zipline tour, our mission was to drive to Playa Tamarindo which is the surfing capital of the region. We plugged our destination into the trusty GPS and settled in for the hour-long drive to the beach. As our journey got underway, the voice of the GPS seemed to be suffering from some absentmindedness. She was intent on guiding us onto very narrow dirt roads with steep inclines and large rocks. At several points we decided to ignore her directions and seek safer roads, hoping she would pick up on our preference for pavement. Eventually, we ended up on a dirt road that was bisected by a raging river. We idled for a few moments to discuss whether our two wheel drive Kia Sportage had the capability of performing as an amphibious vehicle. We quickly decided to turn around and head back to Playa Hermosa to enjoy the rest of the days sun.
BOAT TOUR Playa Hermosa is a beautiful black sand beach with calm water and several restaurant and tour options. We ventured into a yellow and blue painted beachfront bar called AquaSport to enjoy a casual (and inexpensive) lunch and inquire about an afternoon activity. The owner, Jan, was an American born in Montana who came to Costa Rica with her parents at age 10. She offered us a private guided boat tour of the area with a snorkeling stop and sunset view for $120 for 3 hours. We had been considering a touristy booze cruise catamaran trip in nearby Coco Beach for $85 per person, so Jans option seemed like a steal!
We loaded up our gear onto the speedboat and our guide, Adam, took us across the bay for our next adventure. The first stop was on a white coral beach adjacent to the Four Seasons property that could only be accessed by boat. We plopped into the water and headed out to inspect the nearby reef with our snorkels. Ben was lucky enough to spot a giant sea turtle while Erica and I enjoyed the abundant colorful fish. We then opened some local Imperial beers and enjoyed the crystal clear water as the sun began to set. Adam surprised us by catching a blowfish that was inflated to a comical size. We then climbed aboard to head out to Monkey Head Island and watch the sunset. Along the way we watched schools of tuna leap from the water, so Adam decided to drop a line to see what he could catch. Within seconds the rod was bending and Ben was tasked with reeling in the giant fish. To our amazement, he reeled in a 10 lb Tuna! We all immediately gathered for a photo op. Suddenly the rod was bending again as another fish took the line. This time Erica was selected to reel in the bounty, however the fish seemed to be quite the fighter. The two of us battled feverishly to keep the rod steady as we painfully reeled in the second fish- a giant 20 lb Tuna!! (please keep in mind that the margin of error for actual weights may vary by as much as 95 percent) With dinner flopping around in the stern of the boat, we headed back to Hermosa Beach as the sun set over the pacific. Jan arranged for the smaller fish to be cleaned and grilled for us and we gave Adam the larger fish to take home. Somehow we managed to devour every ounce of the enormous Tuna for dinner while listening to the gentle waves crashing along the beach. The group unanimously agrees that the boat tour was the best part of the trip.
One of the best attributes of Costa Rica is its friendly and trustworthy people. Unlike other countries that have seen a rapid growth in tourism, Costa Rica lacks the exhausting haggling and rip-offs that can ruin a vacation. Our funny and engaging guides at the Canopy tour went out of their way to take action photos of us with our camera, yet they were nowhere to be found when it came time to give them their well-deserved tip. We had to go find them as they departed for another tour in order to reward them for a job well done. Our boat guide, Adam, went out of his way to enhance our trip with an unexpected and unforgettable fishing experience and that silly blowfish, yet he was reluctant to accept a cash tip in addition to the fish. Upon returning to the rental car lot, an Avis employee directed us to a nearby gas station where we could refill the tank for less than $1 per liter and avoid the $40 refueling charge. There was an apparent honesty and sincere friendliness among the Costa Rican people that deserves praise and it was a characteristic that we greatly appreciated.
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