Costa Rica : the Vacation That Will Change you

By: Danna Schneider

My recent vacation in Costa Rica was the first time I had ever traveled internationally, so naturally I was a little nervous about all of the "unknown" factors, like visiting a foreign country whose primary language was Spanish, getting through customs, finding my way around, and all those other "what if's" that tend to go through your mind when you're doing anything for the first time.

Little did I know that this would be by far the best place I'd ever visited as far as visually stunning nature, but also the most hands-on when it came to seeing and sometimes interacting with nature.

My sister and I started on our adventure when we met from adjoining flights at the small airport in San Jose, which is the capital of Costa Rica. We didn't stay though, as we had reservations at a resort in Arenal, which was about three hours from San Jose.

If you want to travel somewhere but you don't want to drive, it is very easy to arrange either public or private transportation anywhere you need to go, however, there are not many roads, so if you rented a vehicle with a GPS included, it could easily be navigated.

The only drawback we found with public transportation was that, although it was less expensive than private transport, you did need to set aside a few more hours to get to your destination, as they had many other pickups to make which added more time to the trip. However, when you consider that gasoline cost five dollars a gallon throughout pretty much the whole country, public transportation still seemed a genuine bargain.

As I stated earlier, we stayed first in Arenal, which is an area famous for the Arenal volcano. Arenal is a unique volcano because it actually erupts every night, and although you need to be close to the mountain to actually see it well, you may still see a bit of the bright eruption from a distance. Arenal was a beautiful area. Not only that, there were a ton of activities that you could sign up for within about one hour of the mountain, such as horseback riding, ziplining, hot springs tours, rainforest canopy tours and more.

We chose first to go horseback riding to La Fortuna Falls, which was a visual spectacle unlike any I've seen. La Fortuna Falls was a magnificently huge waterfall that required you walk down several hundred steps just to see the whole waterfall from the bottom up. There was also a lookout point about halfway through where you could gaze at the magnitude of the fall's size, but also take in the lush tropical surroundings and watch for exotic birds and animals along the way.

Then came the canopy ziplining tour, which was not for the faint of heart, but by far the most exhilarating and rewarding experience during our stay. We travelled about one hour from our Arenal resort to the rainforest canopy, and from the drop off point, hiked about a half mile to the zipline platforms after we were suited up in our gear and had signed release forms.

Ziplining through the canopy of the forest at up to 40 miles per hour, and several hundred feet off the ground was unquestionably scary, but after we completed the first platform, everyone on the tour couldn't get enough of it. There were 11 platforms in all, and the scenery from above was breathtaking. It is an experience I will never forget, and I'd recommend that anyone who fancies this sort of sport to do it while in Costa RIca.

From Arenal, we headed up the coast to Jaco. Jaco was probably our least favorite stop of the trip. It's short on scenery, and the blatant prostitution is definitely intimidating, not to mention unsavory, especially for women travelling alone or families. The overall feel there was also not as friendly and open as our previous stay at Arenal, so we only stayed for two days and moved on to another small hotel in a tiny surf community called Playa Hermosa.

The stay there was really nice, laid back and relaxing. You could sit at little restaurants and bars right on the beach and watch the whales blowing and the surfers catching waves and the feel was just very casual. There were tons of beach areas to surf at too, if that's what you're into.

From Playa Hermosa, we moved on to Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio was, by far, the richest in up-close and personal encounters with wildlife, since it harbors a huge national park that is a haven for wildlife.

Not only is there an abundance of wildlife, but the animals there are so used to humans that they will not hesitate to cross directly in your path on one of the many hiking trails, or even snatch your lunch from your backpack as you're basking on one of the inlet beaches along the trails. Yes we actually had small white-faced monkeys steal our lunch, they are notorious for their kleptomania!

In Manuel Antonio, you can choose from several reputable hotels, and there is also some great eating at one of their many laid back outdoor restaurants which feature the national dish of rice and beans, fish, beef and breakfast served all day.

In addition to seeing more monkeys than I can remember, we also got to see a sloth right outside of our hotel hanging out in a tree, parrots, miniature raccoons, lizards large and small, and several other unidentifiable wildlife scurrying through our path in the park or enjoying themselves in nearby trees.

As you can probably tell, Costa Rica was the trip of a lifetime - for me. I suspect that most others who take a trip there would think the same. It's richness in beauty, wildlife, friendly culture and diversity in activities will please even the most discriminating travelers and thrill seekers. And oh, you can also just be a beach bum if you want, too!

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