Upon arrival at the Airport in San Jose, we had arranged for a shuttle from our hostel, TripOn Open House, to pick us up. The hostel was fantastic- breakfast was great and the large kitchen & common areas made for a very social scene. One of the highlights of my trip was meeting so many lovely people at TripOn; highly recommended. We were able to use Uber in San Jose.
The next morning, we headed to the “Coca Cola” terminal bus station* to catch a Mepe bus to Puerto Viejo (<$10). We arrived only about 30 minutes before the first (10/10:30am?) scheduled trip so there was standing room only & we opted to wait around until the noon bus in order to get seats. The trip was around 4 hours and a stop was made at about halfway. There was not AC, wifi or a bathroom on board but that’s half the adventure 😉
*the larger terminal San Miguel is like a shopping mall, it has good wifi, ATMs & if you go in to ask directions to Mepe/Puerto Viejo they will give you good walking directions. Do be cautious whenever walking in San Jose! We heard stories of theft…
Once we arrived in Puerto Viejo, we headed to Kaya’s place for a welcome beer (a tradition of mine) & to use the wifi to map to our Airbnb. We stayed in a great place (we lovingly nicknamed it the Funky Monkey Jungle House) which ended up costing about $20 per night each (split between 3 of us) & was 200m. from the beach and had wifi, a kitchen, outdoor/indoor showers, hammocks on the porch, mosquito nets, comfy beds, etc. I’d return in a heartbeat. The beach near our house was Playa Negro & we found it good for sunbathing on less directly sunny days (as the sand got HOT!)
My Puerto Viejo favorites include the following: eating breakfast/lunch at Como en mi Casa, shopping at Love Lana May, kombucha from the Namú organic store (they had yummy looking pasta & coffee too) and our day of bike rentals ($4) which we rode up to Playa Chiquita & Punta Uva (we swam in the ocean, saw SLOTHS and heard there was good snorkeling).. you can also bike up to Manzanillo (<10km) & the road is nice, right between the beach & jungle. I also took a day trip by bus (purchase ticket <$2 in Puerto Viejo ticket place) to Cahuita National Park where there is a nature trail ($=donation) and saw many animals despite torrential rain! Take a picnic lunch to eat on the beach at the end of the trail. Other things which were recommended but we didn’t do/I plan to do in the future: Carribeans chocolate tasting/tour and visiting the Jaguar rescue center (these both run about $20-25). I loved this town & plan to return in the future. It was my favorite place in CR!!
After week 1, I returned to Trip on San Jose with my friends in order to regroup for my solo week 2 & asked as many people as possible about their highs/lows traveling in CR. My original choice, Jacó, was highly warned against & instead it was recommended that I bus to Sámara on the Alfaro (<$10). That bus was full once I arrived at the station, naturally, but I was able to take 2 buses (San Jo to Nicoya & Nicoya to Sámara).
Sámara is in Guanacaste, an area which I highly recommend if you’re interested in seeing the Pacific side of CR. My time there consisted mostly of chilling on the beach (I bought a bright beach blanket, grabbed a good book and sipped water out of a coconut) but other highlights included: fish tacos at Lo Que Hay (with an ocean view), breakfast/brunch/outdoor yoga & dance classes at Bohemia Cafe & Studio and dinner at Luv Burger (vegan but delicious!). Walking along the beach and viewing the wildlife (iguanas, wild horses & cattle) filled an entire day for me. Things which were highly recommended: a day trip (by bus) to Playa Carillo was recommended & surf lessons were popular- everyone I talked to said the waves were easy & rates were around $40 for a private lesson on day 1 then board rental for 4 consecutive days after.
I have a few other notes which I’ll simply list here. They are not things I did or can vouch for but were recommended by people who had experienced them so may be of some use…
(from Puerto Viejo) bus to the Panama border, boat to Bocas de Toro: cheaper all-inclusive activities/tours
South Pacific = rich nature: whale watching, Peninsula de Osa (south of Miguel Antonio, better), Corcovado National Park (wild rainforest, get tour/guide & stay in jungle hotel & go snorkeling)
Day trips from San Jose: Isla Tortuga one day tour $100 blue beach, Volcanos: Irazu or Poas- go on the very early morning bus to avoid fog!
San Carlos: day to Rio Celeste, Arenal Volcano, Hot springs, Jungle rope bridges
check Yuplon.com for hotel discounts (check whether they are for nationals only)
Fly into Liberia, bus to Guanacaste: Stay in Santa Cruz, bus to flamingo beach, Tamarindo, Playa Carillo, Sámara…
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Costa Rica! I had a daily budget of $40 which was enough for my 2 meals/2 beers per day hostel life/public bus/ tour-less travel habits. I would love to return to the Caribbean side (Puerto Viejo) in the future and felt this trip was equal parts relaxation & adventure 🙂
I would like to thank my friend Corina for her Puerto Viejo tips, my travel companions from home Christie and Amy and all of the wonderful people who I met along the way.. Josh, Roxy, Shafina, Delroy, Olivier, Gerald, Mihai, Ilina, Chris, Seth, Max, Tom, Arta, Milton & Katherine, Jean, Johnny, David, James, Barbara…and many more! I am overjoyed to know you all, to have new friends from all over the planet 🙂