There are so many reasons to choose Costa Rica as a holiday destination not least the stunning rugged landscape and diverse wildlife.
Costa Rica is the chosen name given by Spanish conquistadors in 1502 and meaning “rich coast” gives an idea of the abundant beauty surrounding you in this Central American location.
I took a ten-hour flight direct into Liberia. From London most airlines fly into either Liberia or San Jose at a cost of approx. £500, however we flew out of season and managed to pick up a bargain with Thomson at a cost of just £226.
The airport in Liberia is small in comparison to major London airports with fewer staff so prepare to queue a little at immigration.
The heat when you step off the plane is engulfing even out of season but that’s part of the excitement of travelling to a tropical climate. The smell of tropical air lets your brain know your holiday has started.
After such a long flight I decided to stay for a night in the town of Liberia before moving on.
The jet-lag is challenging to say the least but the time difference (Costa Rica is 7 hours behind) allows you to get your day started early.
Liberia on a Sunday is almost a ghost town – there are shops, banks and restaurants nestled in between the slightly run down buildings but they are mostly closed. It seems the population socialise at the central church in the evenings with many local families dressing up for the occasion.
Liberia town is quaint and charming but I wouldn’t advise spending more that a day or two here in order to acclimatise to the time and temperature. It is a perfect gateway to explore Rincon de la Vieja National Park or the costal areas of Guanacaste. Rincon de la Vieja is well worth a trip – the national park has various trails taking you to peaks, waterfalls, geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pots.
On of the other pulling points of Liberia is that it is a few hours from the Nicaraguan border. I felt it would be scandalous not to take advantage of this and start my trip with a short hop to Granada.
Granada sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. It is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua and is known for its Spanish colonial landmarks as well as its charm.
There are various options of travelling to Nicaragua from Costa Rica depending on your time, money and confidence. You can take local buses but would have to manage the border independently. The border is difficult to navigate if you don’t speak any Spanish at all. You may get lucky as I did and find someone helpful and patient to guide you through. The easiest option is to travel by Tica bus where there will be someone on board to guide you through. However if you are brave enough to try it solo be aware that you have to pay an exit tax of 8 dollars, you then pass through to Nicaragua after completing an immigration form – you then have to pay 12 dollars entry tax to enter Nicaragua and receive that oh so important passport stamp.
I took the 6am bus from Liberia to the border (Penas Blancas); allow an hour and a half to get to border and around 30 minutes to cross in low season. (I would expect this to take much longer during peak season).
Arriving at the border there are a number of touts who are happy to guide you or sell you wears. If you are a lone traveller this can be quite intimidating and it’s wise to keep your wits about you and try not to appear the lost traveller although the guidance is helpful and the end goal seems to be to sell you Nicaraguan currency at a fairly decent exchange rate.
Remember to take change for the toilets at stations and borders (approx. 300 colones).
If you are moving on to the capital Managua there are air-conditioned coaches that you can pay to get on for around 10 dollars or there are public buses for a lot less.
I was lucky enough to get there just in time for the 8am bus to Granada. The journey onwards to Granada was around 2 and half hours.
The bus drops me at the opposite end of town to the hotel so I take a walk along the cobbled streets until I see the sign for Los Patios – without the sign you would miss the entrance and what an entrance it is. White walls and wood furniture create an almost Mediterranean feel. The staff there are incredibly friendly and helpful and the beautifully clear blue water of the small pool in the courtyard is so inviting after a long adventure. I’ve forgotten my stresses already.
The pool although small is perfect to cool off in the haze of sun and beautiful foliage adds to the tropical vibe.
There are numerous spaces designed for relaxing and you can either socialise with other guests or choose a comfy corner of your own for privacy. The hotel also cater for weddings and private events.
There is no bar and no music although I get the feeling that if you want something you simply have to ask to make it so but I was content to take in the beautiful surroundings and relax my mind.
Breakfast is great with a choice of either a European style breakfast of eggs and cheese or a typical costa Rican style affair with rice beans and plantain, fruit salad is served with everything along with freshly cooked (on site) bread that is soft and doughy. After the hearty breakfast I could easily have fell into a full and happy sleep but there is no time, there are too many sights to see so off I go to explore a little of what Granada has to offer.
Wandering along Granada’s cobbled streets and taking in the stunning colonial buildings literally takes my breath away and for a short moment I forget that anywhere else exists. The colourful buildings I pass as I reach the market square are a welcome distraction and then I stumble upon the lazy hustle of a street market selling everything from exotic food to interesting fabrics.
My first stop obvious to anyone who knows me was the Chocolate Museum. There is a lot to find out about the cocoa plantations and the processes of creating the chocolate we know and love today. You can also pay 6 dollars for a day pass to access the delightful pool at the rear of the building and spend the day relaxing.
My favourite experience in a new location is the first day of exploring when everything is new and exciting and every corner promises something you have never seen before, the joy of Granada is that whilst you get this experience its not long before you feel familiar to the area, its very easy to find your way around.
I make my way back to the hotel. Although the hotel doesn’t serve meals as standard you can pre order dishes if you don’t feel like venturing outside of the hotel. I decided to order the ceviche, which is a common dish locally. It comes served with corn chips. The portions are big which is great because exploring can build up an appetite and the food is good, really good.
The following day the staff at the hotel assist me in arranging a private taxi to take me to Apoyo Lagoon Nature Reserve, a volcanic lake between Granada and Masaya.
We stopped at Laguna Beach resort where I paid 6 dollars to spend the day and use their facilities (chairs, day beds, water toys, restaurant and changing facilities).
The lake is idyllic and tranquil and the water is warm.
After spending the day here the Masaya night market is good option and the Masaya volcano. During my trip the volcano was active so it was not possible to go. Staff at the Los Patios advised me that Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua also has a great volcano to visit.
If eating out is more your thing then there are many places to eat and drink locally, in fact just around the corner from the hotel there is a strip of bars and restaurants with various menus and special offers.
After 2 nights in Granada its time to leave, this is a sad situation as I feel like I have only just begun to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. My advice to anyone travelling through is to give yourself at least a week to explore
On returning to Costa Rica I hire a car and travel to Langosta beach. It is a little over an hours drive from Liberia.
I check into the Barceló Langosta Beach, an all-inclusive hotel in the Barceló chain of hotels
The hotel is slightly out of the way which is difficult if you don’t have a car and although there is a local shop the complex has everything you need on site. There is a buffet style restaurant for 3 meals daily, a pool with a children’s area and Jacuzzi. There is also an a la carte restaurant however it is closed as it out of season. There is cabaret style entertainment every evening.
The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable with robes and iron a safe.
Daytime activities are fun, the private beach is excellent for sunbathing and there is a giant chessboard if you feel like being more intellectual. There is Internet available at a cost.
The staff team can organise trips – I went on a kayak tour of the local mangroves, this is super hard work and I was exhausted at the end. Rowing against the waves was really tiring but lots of fun.
Tamarindo town is a 5 dollar taxi ride away and takes around 10 minutes – there you will find bars, restaurants and shops.
Barcelo Langosta Beach is great if you’re a family looking to keep your holiday spend to a minimum as with All Inclusive you don’t need to worry about those ‘extras’ adding up.
Tamarindo is predominantly a surfer town so be prepared for cool kids and their boards. I decide to get in on the action and take a surf lesson. I researched a little on line to find the best (and most patient) surf school and found that Kelly’s had great reviews. It was obvious why after speaking to the owners and arranging a surf and yoga stay at their Tamarindo resort.
On arrival at Sirena Serena – one of the four boutique hotel spaces available when booking a retreat via Kelly’s surf shop and school the first thing I notice is the slide going into the pool and I instantly know I’m going to have fun.
I was greeted by Sebastian one of the owners (along with his wife who was out of the country) you can tell he’s a surfer – he told me about his injury which has meant he was unable to provide me with a surf lesson but told me I would be in good hands with Kurt.
Kurt is a super cool suffer dude with a great smile and a bigger enthusiasm for surfing – you will stand and I guarantee you will be exhausted if you listen and do what I say “surfing is about attitude, confidence and not thinking – own that wave take it – it’s yours”.
By the end of my intro to the board and how to manoeuvre I was ready to hit the waves. Kurt was extremely patient with me and managed to get me to stand up on the board and ride the wave into shore. My surfing skills are pretty minimal so this is a great reflection of Kurt’s teaching skills.
After a hard day surfing Nougis is perfect for a sunset cocktail and the Argentinian steakhouse for delicious empanadas and blood sausage. My favourite restaurant in Tamarindo was Shlomys, who offer a more elegant dining experience with fantastic dishes prepared by a knowledgeable and experienced chef. If you can squeeze in a dessert after your delicious meal then the chocolate dessert is great for those of you with a sweet tooth.
After dark the town becomes much more quiet however there are a few places to dance that are open till late. Go to the Loose Moose Garage for good music and a late night drink.
My room at Sirena Serena was an Ocean themed room with a four-poster bed. I had a great nights sleep – well needed if you take advantage of the yoga class offered by the hotel.
Breakfast was provided at a nearby cafe – there is a lot to choose from and all the products are organic or locally sourced. My stay in Tamarindo ended here which is a shame as Kelly’s offer a huge range of tours and activities either as a group or tailor made to your requirements.
There are lots of lovely local beaches if you feel like getting away – a must if you have rented a car. Each individual beach is so different from the next. Playa Grande is a long stretch of beach that remains really quiet in low seasons, Playa flamingo is a pretty beach with a few shady spots and local hotels if the weather gets too hot and my favourite was Playa Conchal – so named because of the shells on the beach, remember to bring a towel as the beach is a little rocky so difficult to sit on but the landscape is stunning.
The final part of my Costa Rican adventure was to travel further south along the coast to Nosara.
We stayed at the Costa Rica yoga spa. It is a beautiful mountain retreat with views to die for.
As I arrive I am greeted with a cool lavender scented towel and a fruit smoothie preparing you for the relaxing and luxurious stay ahead. The rooms are spacious and airy decorated with warm colours that feel vibrant against the green landscape. The bathrooms are spacious. The suites each have names that inspire serenity and go with ethos of this yoga retreat.
There are 4 suites upstairs and 4 sharing rooms on the lower level.
Meals are family style giving you the opportunity to spend time with the staff and other guests, You may even be lucky enough to make friends with the other residents – the howler monkeys in the trees on site. The resort provide 3 meals daily included in your room rates along with 1 yoga class and 1 beach trip.
The resort has a beautiful permaculture garden where they produce vegetables and herbs for the mainly vegetarian meals, there is also a chicken coop ensuring the eggs you eat are as organic as they come.
There are also community yoga classes and guided meditations to get involved in and if yoga isn’t your thing then the staff on hand to arrange tours as required ranging from beach trips, surf lessons, kayaking, horseback riding and hiking. There is definitely something for everyone.
The star really is the yoga hub. It is a breath-taking open space with awesome views and high ceilings. It’s hard to imagine anywhere more relaxing than here to practice yoga especially as the sun is just setting and the air becomes cooler, it is truly magical.
There are massage rooms available and beauty treatments on request.
The yoga spa offers hotel stays throughout the year as well as retreats
My stay was out of season which meant the rain in the evening was pretty constant although watching the downpour with a cold beer on your balcony was mesmerising
The views – there are no words to explain their beauty – far reaching lush green mountains sitting harmoniously underneath a cotton filled sky – as the end of the trip draws near my eyes struggle to take it in for fear I will lose it on return to London. I make a desperate attempt to imprint on into my memory. The lush green landscape amidst a backdrop of misty mountains gives you the feeling of Pura Vida as the locals say or the good life, it’s a short sharp reminder of just how awesome our planet is.
Mosquito bites are a problem in Costa Rica and Nicaragua so ensure you take a high strength repellent – there are additional concerns around dengue fever and Tika so expectant mothers are advised not to travel (see who fro additional travel advice)
When changing money in Costa Rica unclean or damaged notes are often not accepted so check this before you leave. Dollars are widely accepted however change will be given in local currency at a slightly higher exchange rate so it’s worth taking local currency where possible
Please see individual websites below for upto date prices