Travel Review: Costa Rica

A trip to Costa Rica had been at the top of our travel to-do list for several years, and finally the stars lined up for us to go.  We flew into the Liberia Airport and stayed in an Airbnb near Playa Hermosa—the one in the Guanacaste region in the far northwest corner of the country—on the Pacific Ocean side.  This house had an amazing view of Hermosa Bay (Bahia Hermosa) that we admired throughout the day, every day (see photo).  It also had a pool which was a favorite of the kids and a covered patio with a dining table where the adults spent a lot of time.  The homeowners were a couple from Michigan who were very helpful before and during our trip.

We rented a Nissan Pathfinder through Avis and when we arrived, we were given a Nissan Qashqai, which was noticeably smaller than a Pathfinder.  Three adults plus two kids and bags barely fit into the car.  Very few American sized vehicles were seen in this part of Costa Rica, perhaps because gasoline is $6-$7 a gallon.  The roads in this area of Costa Rica were pretty good, although I’ve heard in many places they are much worse.  We did have to cross a stream in the rental car—technically a river crossing—which violated our rental car agreement, on our way to Playa Conchal.  Thankfully, another car went through before we did so we could see the water was only about four inches deep.

We didn’t venture too far away from our house, but we did manage to hit seven beaches:

      • Playa Hermosa – Nearest beach to the house, good restaurant options and activities, not crowded the several times we went, plenty of parking. Jet skied in the bay for an hour one day.
      • Playa Panama – More of a local’s beach, which was a nice changeup from the others we visited. Wide beach with lots of tree cover for shade.
      • Playa Ocatal – A black sand beach and our daughter’s favorite, had some volcanic rock formations on the beach and in the water. Tide pools with tiny bright blue fish also.
      • Playa Poor Calzon – We set out for Playa Penca, but a Waldorf-Astoria resort is being built above it, so we couldn’t get there. Settled for a half-mile walk down to Poor Calzon.  Had a monkey lounging in the tree above us.  If you go here, we’d suggest bringing food and water with you and more than flip flops for the walk down and back.
      • Playa Huevos – We stopped here on our boat tour to see the two caves (actually tunnels) which run perpendicular to each other. Ocean water rushes through each tunnel and converges where you can stand.  Hold onto your small children.
      • Playa Conchal – An entire beach of seashells and broken seashells with a great snorkeling spot and local food vendors that were excellent. We rented a canopy to keep the hot sun off us for $20.  Park at Playa Brasilito and walk the half mile to Conchal.  It’s worth the stroll.  It was our family’s favorite beach on the trip.
      • Playa Jicaro – One beach over from the Four Seasons resort, we stopped here on our boat tour to get a glimpse of monkeys, but we just missed them apparently.

We also didn’t overschedule activities, as the point of this vacation was to relax and slow down.  We did a good job of that for the first 3-4 days.  Then we did a couple excursions, a boat trip that took us to several bays in the area and down the Rio del Ahogado, where we saw some wildlife.  We also went snorkeling and saw an eel, a pufferfish, and plenty of other tropical fish.

The other excursion was to Canon de la Vieja, about 30 minutes east of the Liberia airport.  This was our first time zip lining, which was a family favorite.  Eight lines with varying lengths and heights.  We also did white water tubing, a mineral mud bath, and hot springs while here.

There were plenty more activities we could have done—maybe next time.  But our typical day was to go to the beach around 9am, eat lunch around 11am, and then hang at the house during the afternoon and most evenings, too.  For dining, here are the places we visited.

      • On or near the beach in Playa Hermosa:
          • Roberto’s – good food and drinks, live music some nights, right on the beach.
          • La Casita del Marisco – good seafood options and great sunset views in February. The only restaurant on the beach where we could see a full sunset (see photo below).
          • Ginger – great food (tapas), but we would suggest not sitting on the deck, which overlooks the main road through Playa Hermosa. Road noise was a bit much.
      • Other restaurants:
          • Hacienda Blu on Playa Panama – great breakfast and lunch spot, ample parking. Gallo pinto is a Costa Rican breakfast dish, which I had there, and it was awesome.  Beans & rice with eggs and more.
          • Father Rooster’s on Playa Ocatal – on the beach, good lunch spot

 

A few other notes worth sharing:

      • Prices: Lunch consistently ran us over $100 for three adults and two kids. This included a beer for the adults and limonada for one kid.  Being an ex-pat community, we should have expected American prices.  We also could have sought out local eateries better than we did.  Groceries were also about the same price as in Nebraska for many items.  Local brands were a better option in many cases.  Auto Mercado in Coco and Super Luperon in Playa Hermosa were our two grocery stores.  We used our credit cards for almost all purchases, except for the excursions and beach purchases, which we paid in American dollars.
      • Liberia airport: On the smaller side, but very convenient to where we were staying, this airport only has eight gates all in a row, which make navigating the airport easy. Took us about 20-30 minutes to get through customs, get our bags, and exit the airport.  Not bad.
      • Phones: T-Mobile has an international data pass that we turned on for the duration of our trip. Internet speeds at the house were good and data coverage away from the house was solid most of the time.  Phone calls weren’t covered by this plan addition though.
      • Safety: At no point during our trip did we feel unsafe. Costa Ricans are very friendly people and very respectful, also.
      • Global entry: Knowing that we wanted to take our kids out of the country eventually, we went through the Global Entry application and interview process in 2023. This comes with TSA Pre-Check, which is a nice feature for domestic travel.  The Global Entry process upon returning to the States was super-fast.  If you’re on the fence about it, I’d recommend getting Global Entry.
      • Language: Being a big ex-pat community, we found a lot of Costa Ricans who spoke English, even though our preference was to utilize the “pequeno” amount of Spanish we know.

We thoroughly enjoyed this part of Costa Rica, but it made us want to explore more of the country at some point.  The Pacific side has a lot of small beach towns like the one we stayed in, so there are many options for future trips.  Playa Hermosa isn’t close to being overdeveloped, but you can see it’s headed that direction in the next 20-30 years as more people discover it or leave their home country for warmer climates.

I’m happy to answer any questions you have about our trip.  Send me an email or give me a call.

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