Well what can I say? Costa Rica really does do what it says on the tin; Pura Vida means pure life and it definitely is. Whatever it is your looking for in a vacation I'm certain that Costa Rica has it. It's hard to explain in words exactly what it is about this small Central American country but it just grabs you by the heart.
I could go on & on for hours but I'll try to keep it brief......
For us, this was a very last minute decision with hardly any prior knowledge of the country at all, but just a real need & desire to get away to find some sunshine and enjoy some local activities. After reading a little bit about the place I decided to go for it! I booked a 2 week all inclusive holiday to Costa Rica for the 4 of us, 2 adults and 2 children (12 & 7). We arrived on the 12th Dec and departed on the 26th Dec, so we had Christmas day out there which really was lovely.
Our location was Riu Guanacaste on Matapalo beach & it was amazing, can't fault it all. The beautiful gardens led down to the public beach which was never busy. It's a beautiful natural cove with a fairly calm Pacific Ocean rolling on to a dark sandy, very clean beach which we also shared with the Riu Palace next door. There are plenty of things to do from the beach: jet skis, scuba diving, canoeing, paddle boarding, snorkelling, boat trips and also other activities that could be booked from the beach vendors - who I have to say were lovely and very reputable, they took very good care of us at a very reasonable price.
We booked 2 activities with them: horse riding & quad biking, and would have done a lot more if we had realised sooner. Both these activities were in the forests close by our hotel for ease and they were amazing. We encountered 3 types of Monkeys up close on the horse riding: White faced Capuchin, Howlers, and Spider which was fantastic, then we ended the ride with a canter along the beach which was a real bucket list thing for me, absolutely beautiful as well as funny - we all had a really good giggle, such great memories. Then the quad biking was awesome we drove them through many rivers where we had water up over our knees, through all sorts of terrain in the forest & up to a beautiful waterfall with a deep splash pool at the bottom. We took a break here and the brave jumped into it from the top of the waterfall but unfortunately this was 1 thing I couldn't do - it freaked me out standing at the top. Afterwards we then made our way back through the rivers again - this time a bit more aggressively making way more splashes and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
Just next door to our hotel was an Eco Adventure Park which is home to the longest ocean view dual zip line in Costa Rica, the Superman. So obviously us 4 being a adrenaline junky family had to give that a go. It's 4,461 feet high, almost a mile long and its fast.
We have all done various other zip lines and we all agreed that this one was the best. If you get the chance - do it, it's awesome. The views from up there are stunning too, you can see the Arenal volcano fairly well on a good weather day.
From the Dive centre on site we also booked a sunset cruise on a party catamaran. Originally we had chose this because we had heard that you could possibly see Humpback Whales but subsequently we found out that it was the wrong time of year sadly, but it is true they are found in this bay. It was a great afternoon sailing around some of the many islands in the area, one of them we moored at so that we could all go snorkelling but the visibility was poor with lots of tiny jelly fish in the water, nothing painful but irritating. So we went on to the beach to see the White faced Capuchin's who were hanging around. We had taken bananas with us for the fish but we fed them to the monkeys instead. They were so cute how they come up to take them from you. Obviously you need to be very careful as they can be nasty and carry disease. It was a fantastic experience though. Once back on board we
had a lovely dinner with lots of drinking, dancing and everyone having fun whilst watching the stunning sunset - priceless.
A couple of times we took a small boat taxi round to Coco beach for a change of scenery. This is the closet town to our hotel for all your souvenir shopping and everything else too. A great local place, very real, another great experience.
On another note we also chose to a book a day trip excursion through our reps in the hotel thinking that these would be the best trips on offer but after our experience I would most definitely say - Shop around before you book anything!
We booked their Villa Verde trip which was sold to us as a full day experience at a cost of $130 each which we thought was expensive, but hey we are only here once and we wanted to see Sloths.
We were made aware that it would be about a 2 hour drive so that wasn't the issue but unfortunately we got caught up in a road closure which meant we were stuck in the minibus for over 3 hours, but that was just unfortunate. The real issue was that all in all between the guided tour around Villa Verde (which was very good don't get me wrong & we did see Sloths in the tree tops) lunch & then onto a beautiful waterfall that you could
swim up to and get behind (again very lovely) but it was all too brief. The so called full day ended up being about 2.5 hours of experience which I think is stretching it to say the least. If only we had found the beach vendors or similar sooner.
One thing that became very clear when we ventured outside of the hotel was that Costa Rica is not a cheap place to buy anything, but if you shop around you can barter.
The range of excursions and activities in Costa Rica is amazing and it caters for everyone from adrenaline junkies, nature lovers to sun worshippers. The wildlife and rain forests are stunning, you can actually experience a lot just from the beach and surrounds of the hotel, you don't need to go far. The scenery, landscapes and views are picture perfect and something that will stick in my mind forever. With the sights, sounds, smells & everything we experienced it really felt like we were in one of Sir David Attenborough's nature programmes.
As I said earlier my knowledge of this country was seriously limited before we went but it has so many islands, volcanoes, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and it also has the National parks, it does just keep giving.
In my opinion this is a country that you need to visit more than once as you really can not do everything in 1 visit, you just literally scratch the surface.
Next time, we have already decided that we really want to tour Costa Rica with a hire car using B&B or small hotels to get a much deeper experience of the country. Don't get me wrong the all inclusive hotel was wonderful but you are detached from a full on rain forest experience. While we were there we were never warned about going outside of our complex, or any trouble in the area, and we spoke to lots of people who had been backpacking and touring around so I am confident in saying that it is very safe to do so. The only thing you have to worry about is the wildlife as they do have many dangerous/poisonous species out there, but it is about using your common sense.
It really was a perfect holiday and perfect Christmas with no hassles, no family issues, no stress just glorious hot sunshine, pool swim up bar with cocktails and such a great choice of delicious food. One that we will treasure forever.
Writing this just brings it all back so vividly and I just so want to be back there right now, it really did steal my heart x