Pura Vida: The Beginning to a Lifetime
I married my best friend on May 29, 2016. We discussed travel plans for our honeymoon, and having only traveled in the continental US, we chose to go international for the 1st time together to Costa Rica.
We were ballin’ on a budget so we had to keep our honeymoon under $2,500. Southwest Vacations is a great pick for those who want a deal for trips to Central America, or the Caribbean. It ranked top choices for hotels + airfare, and I clicked on the 1st All-Inclusive that caught my eye, RIU Guanacaste. SW Vacations allows you to add-on “things to do” to your itinerary, so I clicked on a few activities to be added to my cart to spice up the trip, like “Rainforest Zip lining Adventure Tour” for about $30/person.
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Denver to Liberia. Within 6 hours, we landed at the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport. “Brace yourself for humidity, it’s an outdoor airport”, they never told us. Coming from Denver, where the weather was dry, you tend to forget what moisture in the air actually feels like. Costa Rica has 2 seasons: a “wet” season (May-Nov) and “dry” season (Dec-Apr). Summer months are considered “wet” season and tend to have more rainfall and average temperatures hover around 88F. Despite the humidity, the Northwest region of Costa Rica tends to be the drier compared to its Caribbean half, it wasn’t bad.
Upon exiting the baggage claim area, we walked into this crowd of dozens of drivers yelling out inaudible names as they all blended together, waving their hands with signs to find their designated clientele. We walked and walked and walked and never saw our name, so I started to ask some random people in colorful shirts that said “info” where to find CAT (Central American Tours). On a side note, because my name’s Cat, I HAD to choose this company. We were led to this general area of other confused travelers and turns out they threw us into a line of people looking for a cab driver. We did 2 laps around the airport lobby before we found our guy with a small sign that had my last name written on it. What a relief. Our 40 minute shuttle ride to the hotel involved a very informational debrief about Costa Rica and the Guanacaste Province. “Pura Vida is not only a saying, it is our lifestyle.” Costa Rica was voted the #1 happiest country in 2016, and we were soon to find out why.
“Welcome to the RIU Guanacaste”! The resort had 4 in-house restaurants (by reservation only), multiple sites where food was served all day, 2 swim-up bars, an outdoors bar, a sports bar (24 hours), happy hour special drinks in the lobby, a performance every night at 9pm, casino, discoteca, BINGO, volleyball competitions, kayaks, you name it, they had it. To top it off (literally) every room came stocked with a bottomless wet bar. And did I mention, beach front with mango trees on the property where monkeys hang out and will literally visit you on your balcony? THIS was PURA VIDA.
The next morning we started our day at 6am in the lobby ready to go with Alejandro from CAT to La Fortuna, home to the famous Volcan Arenal (Arenal Volcano). On our way there, we learned about Costa Rica’s trade, their economy, their sources of renewable energy, only to make us realize how little innovation we have in energy compared to them. Costa Rica powers most of Central America through geothermal energy around all of its active volcano sites in addition to wind and hydroelectric. The average family there lives off of $600-700USD per month, and do their best to live within their means. A clean and shiny porch is the main priority in every household, as it welcomes guests, they could care less about their home interiors. Alejandro, to this day, is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. He taught us bird calls, trees that can grow from a broken branch on the forest bed, sloths that hang out in the same spot for months so that mold grows on them, and more wildlife facts that would take me days to elaborate on.
Arenal was breathtaking. Smoke plumes were still coming out, and luscious vegetation had grown all the way up its slopes.
After our hike, we stopped at the Baldi Hot Springs, which is one of my faves of all time. The pools are tiered into different levels with varying temperatures, the top being the hottest and the bottom pools are the coolest. They have a kids park, waterslides for adults, waterfalls to stand under, swim up bars and a restaurant.
We booked other excursions throughout the week on-site at our resort with the CAT rep. They have zip lining, ATV, horseback riding, and a ton of other day excursions that pick you up from the resort. It is cheaper to book on-site, so if you can hold off until you arrive and have a flexible schedule, I would suggest doing that to save money. Otherwise, book a driver to take you to places and make up your own itinerary. There was enough entertainment provided at the RIU that we spent every other day touring outside of the resort.
Another hike we enjoyed was Rincón de la Vieja National Park. It’s super easy to find a driver who will take you to the entrance. From there, simply follow the trail to see the geothermal mud pits, sulfur springs, and steam vents. You will also experience seeing the change in vegetation as you cross the continental divide between the Pacific and the Caribbean side.
And of course, COFFEE! Costa Rican coffee beans are considered among the best in the world. If you’re a coffee drinker, you can’t go without trying it fresh from its source. We tried coffee from a variety of places, at different restaurants, and also from Tio Leo, a local roaster. The shop itself is mixed in with a gift shop, and they charge American prices for all of their souvenirs, but go ahead and skip all of that and go straight to the back coffee bar where they roast their coffee fresh. If you want more beans to take home, visit a grocery store for reasonable prices.