Two weeks ago, Chris and I took the trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica. We were so graciously given the trip as part of Costa Rica’s “Gift of Happiness” program, which has awarded one million dollars in trips to Costa Rica over the past year in an effort to promote happiness in people’s lives.
On our trip, we visited three different cities in three very different parts of the country and, I swear, it just got better with each stop. We left the Tuesday after Gracie’s first birthday and flew into Liberia, Costa Rica. From Liberia, we had to drive about an hour to the coastal surf town of Tamarindo. To be honest with you, Chris and I hadn’t looked at our itinerary until we were sitting in the airport in Atlanta waiting to board to Costa Rica. So, when we finally got there, we pretty much didn’t know anything about our trip. We knew where we were (sometimes), but didn’t have much of an idea where we were going next. Turns out, that’s such a fun way to travel! We just woke up every day and were surprised by our day! It was awesome!
Here’s a little video Chris took on the drive from the Liberia airport to Tamarindo. As you can see, I know next to nothing about our trip…
During our trip, we stayed at four and five leaf hotels, which means they were the highest rated in sustainability. You really would have no idea you were staying in a completely sustainable hotel, except that the staff at each hotel were so proud of their leaf status (which is apparently very, very hard to achieve). They made sure you knew that not only were you staying in a sustainable and eco-friendly hotel, but you were now part of that accomplishment, too. And it wasn’t just the hotels and resorts that were proud of their positive footprint on the environment. Everyone from the taxi drivers to the restaurant waiters to the guys sitting on the beach with their surf boards would gladly tell you about how much Costa Rica values the environment. It was an unexpected part of the trip that I found really inspiring.
A really great example of this would be the monkeys at our first hotel. Hotel Capitan Suizo had three monkeys that they were rescuing and rehabilitating. These monkeys had been rescued for some reason or another (mostly because of losing their natural habitats to urban development), and now they were living in the lush, natural gardens at the hotel where they were being taught to find food and survive on their own. These monkeys were always around! They never came close enough for you to touch and you weren’t supposed to feed them or anything. But they seemed to enjoy their life on the hotel grounds. And why not? It was BEAUTIFUL at the hotel!
When we arrived at the hotel on the first day, it was about 2:00 local time. Too late for lunch, Chris and I grabbed a beachside table in the bar and, over a beer, laughed about what the heck we were doing in Costa Rica! It was so surreal!
Our hotel room was gorgeous. Simple, immaculately clean, comfortable, and roomy. Everything you need to relax in style!
Our room was actually two stories, and it had these gorgeous windows that let natural light stream in (reducing the need for electric lights during the day, by the way…).
We had a great little balcony, too, that overlooked the natural gardens of the hotel. Just looking at this picture makes me feel relaxed again!
That first night, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. You know, right on the beach.
We watched a gorgeous sunset from table. It was breathtaking and a perfect end to our first day.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast which included having to defend my food from a rather insistent iguana who kept climbing up on our table (didn’t get a picture of that one because I was hold my plate fiercely against my chest…), Chris and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. It was too early to be out by the pool or beach, and we didn’t have anything on our itinerary until late in the afternoon. I hate the admit this, but we hadn’t had a truly FREE period of time to ourselves in YEARS. If we get free time at home, like when the kids are at my parents or something, but we usually use that time to work on the house or work stuff or something productive. When left to our own devices for complete relaxation, we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves! So, we decided to hang out in a hammock on the beach until an idea came to us…
And what we came up with was sitting on the beach. Because apparently when we’re on vacation, there is no appropriate time for the beach. So, at 9:30am, we sat our happy behinds on beach chairs and didn’t move until the bar opened at 11:00. That, my friends, is how you vacation.
We laid by the pool later that afternoon, choosing to drink our lunch instead of eating (a decision we made just about every day on our trip). As the afternoon wore on and the heat began to kick up, we were joined on our pool loungers by this friendly, enormous iguana. She seemed to really like Chris. She walked across the entire pool area, then crawled up on a big rock next to his pool chair, and sat there sunning and staring at him for almost half an hour. She had a crush.
Later that afternoon, we walked down the beach to the town of Tamardindo. It’s a small little beach town with great food, really nice people, and lots of souvenir shopping. We spent the afternoon walking around and checking out the shops that had local artists artwork and crafts. I almost bought the kids their first souvenir, but Chris talked me out of it. Party pooper.
Before we started the 20 minute beach walk back to the hotel, we stopped and had ourselves a nice little cocktail. Now, I joke about drinking and I have some pretty funny stories about it, too, but I’m actually not that big of a drinker. But in Costa Rica? Man, their drinks were the best! You’d order a fruity, frozen drink and they’d take a whole, fresh pineapple or something, cut it up and throw that into a blender. It was fresher than fresh, and it was delicious!!!!
We had to be back at the hotel by 4:00 for our first excursion…surf lessons! Originally, I had planned not to surf. Even though I am from Florida and grew up on the beach, I am not a fan of swimming in the ocean. Bottom line: Sharks scare me. I can’t help it! They just do! And so, I had intended for Chris to do the lesson and I would take the pictures. But being in Costa Rica, sitting on the beach, watching seemed a little ridiculous. How could I pass this up? People pay thousands of dollars to come surf in Costa Rica and here I was on a FREE trip with a (incredibly good looking) surf instructor. So, I suited up and hit the waves, dude!
Or, rather, they hit me. Hard. And often.
I got up a lot, actually. And I rode the waves all the way in to the beach a couple times, too. But in between the actual surfing, I was basically getting thrown around with a giant surf board tied to my leg. I kept thinking, maybe when I actually catch a wave, it’ll be better. You know, reward for all the work or whatever. But when I actually caught a wave…well…let’s just say I enjoyed my pineapple drinks better than a nose full of saltwater.
Chris, though? He was a natural. He’d surfed a few times growing up, but he seemed to pick it up really quickly this time.
After an hour, I had had enough and I headed in to get our camera. I spent the next hour sitting on the beach, thinking about what I was going to wear to dinner that night, and occasionally waving to Chris as he cruised by on a surfboard.
That night we decided to go into town for dinner to a place that our surf instructor recommended called Coconuts. He said it was the best place to get the most traditional Costa Rican food.
The food did not disappoint. It was amazing! Chris had this whole lobster that was stuffed with this fresh mango and pineapple chutney, and I had grilled mahi mahi (caught that day!) with calamari rings, all bathed in butter and fresh herbs. Lip smackin’ good!
The next day, we had to be up and going pretty early because we were flying to our next resort. On the itinerary, it said that we were taking a “local flight” to La Fortuna. Had I known what “local flights” were in Costa Rica, I don’t think I would have left the first resort.
Our driver was taking us to the airport, when all of a sudden, he turned down this tiny dirt road. He kept driving and driving, further and further away from civilization. By the time I realized that this wasn’t a detour, but was instead where the actual airport was (if you can call it an airport), I started to panic. Here…let me show you how I reacted:
Seriously. This “airport” was incredibly small. The plane was so small that not only did we have to weigh our carry ons, but WE had to get on the scales to be weighed, too!
Here’s the airstrip…
And here’s the place where you buy drinks or snacks for the plane…
Oh, and here comes our plane…
I was terrified. TERRIFIED. I don’t even like flying all that much in REAL planes, let alone this toy plane in the middle of some cow field! But, from somewhere deep inside, close to the place that made me get on a surfboard in the Pacific Ocean, I found the courage to get on the darn plane. And somehow, I found the restraint to keep from screaming out whenever the plane hit turbulence that made me feel like we were free falling back towards Earth. And somehow, I found the bladder control to not even wet my pants.
Sometimes, I really impress myself.
We landed that afternoon in La Fortuna and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so La Fortunate to be alive!
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about our stay in La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano. One of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever been. Don’t miss it!