Growing up, my family went on two long vacations a year, always to the same two places. In March we head to Boca Grande, Florida where we stay in a beautiful house or condo on a private beach. We spend the 2+ weeks sunning and exploring the cute shops in town by day, and by night indulging at the same delicious restaurants or having fun cooking at home. In the summer, we make the trek to our family island in Canada, which is pretty much glamping. Canada is rustic, but it’s comfortable, familiar and completely relaxing.
On the other hand, Matt grew up adventuring to new locations and foreign countries on vacations with his family. I was so stoked when Matt and I decided to take our first real vacation, just the two of us, to a place neither of us had been, Costa Rica. I’d never done an adventure-style vacation like this so I honestly, and embarrassingly, had no idea what to expect. But Matt took the reigns, made the plans and reservations, and we used my brief time off between quitting my job and starting school to go to Costa Rica.
Although here were a couple nights where we stayed in very humble hostels as we traveled from one place to another, we spent the majority of our trip in two places; first in Monteverde in the Cloud Rainforest and then in the surfer beach town of Santa Teresa.
In Monteverde, we took the suggestion of Matt’s uncle and stayed at the remote and breathtaking lodgings of El Sol. El Sol was an incredible experience to say the least. We stayed in a brightly colored private cabin complete with mini kitchen and a front porch looking out onto the rolling hills of the Cloud Rainforest. Our fresh and authentic Costa Rican meals were delivered to our door at the requested time by the friendly and accommodating staff. My favorite meal was the delicious breakfasts consisting of rice, beans, handmade corn tortillas, farm-fresh eggs, cheese and fried plantains. Like omg, so amazing.
Our favorite activity while staying at El Sol was the epic horseback ride through the wilderness with only the two of us and our guide. We stopped for a swim and a delightful lunch at a remote waterfall and had a total blast. We also enjoyed exploring Santa Elena, the small and rustic town just a short cab ride away from El Sol. It was definitely worth the 30 minute walk from the main part of town to a more remote part of town where we enjoyed lunch at Stella’s Bakery and coffees at the Monte Verde Coffee Center. In the main part of town, we were exceptionally pleased with our meal at Taco Taco, where my fried avocado tacos and hibiscus iced tea were to die for. One night we had drinks at another gem, Tree House restaurant. Although we didn’t eat there, the drinks were delish, the atmosphere was very unique and cool, and the live music was so much fun.
From El Sol we traveled to Santa Teresa, a beach town in the Puntarenas province situated near Mal Pais and Montezuma. We traveled during the wet season, considered the slow or low season in Costa Rica. We found that some restaurants and shops were closed or had weird hours, but overall we liked the low season because the foliage and greenery were robust and there were far fewer crowds and people to deal with. We zipped from town to town and to each activity on our rented ATV (sooo much fun), and spent our days hiking in the beautiful Cabo Blanco Reserve, the first reserve in Costa Rica, and hiking to each of the three waterfalls of Montezuma. Our day in Cabo Blanco was my absolute favorite day. We made the four hour round trip hike to the most beautiful and pristine beach I’ve ever seen, and because it was a protected beach and because it was the low season, we were the only people there. Incredible. We wrapped up our afternoon with an amazing Mexican lunch at the beach front restaurant, Habenero in Santa Teresa. The food, the view, and the friendly staff were all on point. We actually ended up going back to Habenero for drinks one night and dinner on another as it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Costa Rican sunsets.
In Santa Teresa we stayed at the Funky Monkey Lodge which pretty much epitomized what I envisioned Costa Rica to be. The Funky Monkey is a bit rustic, but in a cool surfer-beach-y way. Our private bungalow was the perfect place to hang out while the afternoon rains of the wet season poured down. The Funky Monkey is situated just off the main drag, in the thick of the action. And the sushi there (served on Wednesday and Saturday nights) was nothing short of amazing. On the topic of food, our meals in Santa Teresa were out of this world. The fresh fruit smoothies at every restaurant were enough to keep me satisfied. But I didn’t have to rely on the smoothies for satisfaction. To make things easy, here’s a simple and straightforward list of my favorite places to eat in the area…
The Bakery, Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, our favorite breakfast spot that also serves lunch and dinner (a local favorite, always popping)
Habenero, Santa Teresa, beachside dining at a luxurious lodge, typical (but exceptional) Mexican food
Cafe Social, Santa Teresa, fast-casual stop for fresh breakfast/lunch wraps, sandwiches and salads
Zwart Cafe, Santa Teresa, casual breakfast and lunch spot serving up super healthy food in a dreamy art gallery
Case Del Mar, Santa Teresa, lunch and dinner spot in a super cool outdoor/indoor space with brick-oven pizza and the best fruit smoothies (lemon-pineapple was the bomb)
Burger Rancho, Santa Teresa, popular family-friendly lunch and dinner joint, small and charming setting with a long list of burger options
Zulu Restaurant, Santa Teresa, delicious falafel and Mediterranean specialties like hummus and shwarma
Cocolores, Montezuma, beach front dining with exceptional and eclectic food and an unassuming entrance
My trip with Matt to Costa Rica was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Although I have a new found appreciation for the comfort and familiarity of traveling to the same places over and over again, there’s something exciting and fulfilling about seeing and experiencing new places, especially those that push me out my comfort zone. I’ve learned that there are two things I need to fully enjoy a vacation. Of course, fresh, inspiring and delicious food is the first must. And the second must is suitable lodgings that I look forward to going back to between activities. A part of me wishes I was more laid back about hostels and the bed I sleep in while traveling, but that’s obviously not who I am. However, I don’t need to stay in the most luxurious hotel either. All I need is a place that feels clean and where the ambiance is comfy, cozy and inviting. Although there were two nights of semi-questionable hostel lodging, El Sol and Funky Monkey both exceeded my expectations and I would go back to either one in a heartbeat.
As I said before, the most important aspect for me when traveling is being able to eat my way through the experience (shocker). The fresh, healthy, farm-to-table dining that was emphasized in each of the restaurants we visited was awesome.
This trip was a learning experience and a full-on adventure that opened my eyes to a completely different culture and way of living. I can confidently say that Costa Rica is worth the trip, especially for the traveler with a big appetite for scrumptious food, a love for nature and wildlife, and the need for tons of beachy fun in the sun.