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Localness: Costa Rica Edition

Localness: Costa Rica Edition

For being so damn poor, I am actually #blessed to be able to travel quite often. Because I've become so comfortable journeying, I really enjoy submersing myself in culture and experiencing life like a local- typically by being a little more frugal & observing what other travelers might forget to tell us. 

I recently had the opportunity to go on an amazing adventure to Costa Rica, NeonBeige style. Meaning, I was fortunate enough to have lodging and flight taken care of: NEON.

Now, I’m aware that this was a miraculously wonderful opportunity; however, I am a business owner, so my funds were incredibly scarce and limited. First order of business: BUDGET. This goes without saying, it's important to look at your expenses and come up with a budget for yourself, then fill the holes accordingly.

Additionally, you’ll need to know what to DO with your budget, what to PACK, and how much stuff COSTS in general... It all depends on the experience you’re seeking and where you intend to go (and just FYI, my experience is only a tiny chunk of the activities available in this beautiful country), but hopefully you’ll be able to find some of this information useful. 

SHIT you should bring:

SPANISH DICTIONARY or PHRASE BOOK

  • If you failed Spanish like my boyfriend did, you’ll need it…

  • If you failed Spanish like me, but retained a little, you’ll be kind of okay

  • Either way, if you struggle with Spanish, grab the book, because not everyone speaks English

AN OPEN MIND:

  • It may seem daunting while getting your bearings, but keep in mind that this is a very welcoming and friendly culture. You may hit some parts of town that seem “sketch”, but if you’re not an idiot, nobody will bother you.

  • Also note that people will speak to you even while knowing you don’t speak the language, so it's okay to just nod your head and smile.

  • Nobody really puts their head down and keeps to themselves. You might be approached and people won't hesitate to come up and say, "Hello!" and ask questions. So don't be an asshole, engage!

PATIENCE:

  • While it is an incredibly vibrant and friendly culture, there is also a survival of the fittest, organized chaos mentality among the locals. For example, someone may try to actually run across the freeway to get to work knowing you're headed toward them... or if you're driving, somebody may pass you on a one-lane freeway, because you’re going too slow. Don't get worked up, just go with the flow. They're not trippin' about it.

  • As I experienced, it's actually easy to find yourself in an area you didn't intend to be. If you've strayed too far and you're unable to communicate, just be friendly and open. Usually someone will help out or try to be accommodating even if you both can't fully understand each other. 

shit you should know:

AVOID:

  • San Jose: If you can, I'd suggest staying away San Jose as a home base. Everyone flies into San Jose, the country's capital, and there are some sites to see here. Overall, it's more of an industrial commuter vibe. You will likely not find any down home, local joints here, and you'll be limited on where to go because most places are quite spread out.
  • Escazu: Similarly, this is an up and coming town filled with restaurants and swankier vibes. Just like San Jose, it'll be harder to get places because there isn't much tourism and everything is spread out.
  • Celebration on New Years: Our visit happen to be through the New Year. FYI, most business will be closed, because this is a total family holiday!

STUMBLED UPON:

  • LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS
    • Entrance fee: $40
    • Accepts credit cards
    • Partial Zoo: butterfly sanctuary, reptile garden, aviary, jungle cats, monkeys, and frogs
    • Food available, but you can bring in outside food as well and hang around the picnic areas
    • This is also near the Poas Volcano. This volcano is kind of like a crater, so make sure you go on a clear day, otherwise you'll see nothing.
  • OROSI VALLEY
    • The most amazing little town and the most insane views: overall a great place to explore - no entrance fee
      • Grab a bottle of wine and some snacks, then just park on the side of the cliff where there is plenty of room to hang - Locals do it too!
      • If you forgot to pack a snack, hit up a run down "soda" where you can get real chicharrones, Imperial beer, and fried green plantains
    • Costa Rica's first capital- Cartago
      • Be mindful of pick pocketers here
      • If you step into the church, try not to be loud and obnoxious. Refrain from taking many pictures if you can
    • Orosi Ruins
  • ARENAL/LA FORTUNA
    There is legitimately TOO much to do here. You will definitely want to stick around this area for at least a few days. Budget at least $100
    • INSANE Zip-line, sky tram, and hiking adventures (some of the longest zip lines you'll find over the entire rain forest along with hikes on hanging bridges and treks to private waterfalls) There are TONS of agencies to book through, but we used Sky Adventures.
    • Other adventures include: hot springs, ATV tours, horseback riding, hiking, river rafting, repelling, kayaking, & SO much more!
  • MONTEVERDE
    We did not have a chance to venture to Monteverde, but it is quite close to Arenal and La Fortuna. I heard that the Monteverde Cloud Forest is a must!
  • ACTIVITIES NEAR VOLCAN IRAZU
    This is actually hilarious... We had every intention of visiting the Volcan Irazu National Park, but we stumbled WAY off the beaten path to a national park where locals camp and hike. If you get lost, there's still plenty to see & do. We actually had more fun driving around aimlessly.
    • Duran Sanatorium: Known as the most haunted place in Costa Rica
      Entrance fee: $2
    • Hiking - I honestly couldn't tell you where we were... But you should pack a lunch just in case you find yourself near some trails.
  • JACO
    • A hip little beach town
    • Great souvenir shopping
    • Not super family friendly - if you play your cards right, you can probably find weed here. Just don't be stupid
    • Most speak English 
    • Surfing is comparable to Waikiki - great for beginners

shit you don't need:

Even if you want to only experience the beach resort lifestyle, you might find yourself adventuring much more than expected, and trust me, nobody cares what you look like. So get the vanity part out of your brain. It’ll be pointless once you realize how damn humid it is.

MAKEUP:

  • Don’t get me wrong, I totally put makeup on some days, but overall, you’re not going to need it. You’ll spend most of your days wiping it off your face from all the sweat, so pack lightly (light moisturizer, CC or BB cream with SPF, yeah, that’s about it)

  • Okay, okay… if you’re not a ragamuffin like me, you may want to consider an eyebrow pencil, some bronzer, a vibrant lip color, and maybe some mineral veil or primer, but seriously THAT is it. Mascara, eye-liner, and eye shadow are pretty much pointless unless you’re in an environment with super controlled temperature. So have fun being all dolled up in your hotel room.

FANCY CLOTHES:

  • Nobody really dresses up unless you’re at a resort and want to have a nicer dinner, but as I stated before, it’s quite hot, so if you want to suffer, by all means, bring fancy attire and waste the space

  • If you do opt in for a more formal evening, make sure whatever you're wearing is LIGHT and AIRY.

shit you should pack:

ADVENTURE

No matter where you end up going, I think you've already picked up on the fact that there is SO MUCH to do. Do your research on what you'd like to actually do and utilize the concierge and local knowledge. 

  • LIGHTWEIGHT, DRI FIT ATHLETIC GEAR 

    • The weather is quite unpredictable, but you can sure count on humidity. Whether it rains or not, you want to be prepared, and wearing something cool will help you survive any sort of heat stroke or elevation issues you may encounter. Shorts with ventilation are awesome, and even dri fit yoga pants are fantastic.

  • LIGHTWEIGHT WINDBREAKER or WATERPROOF JACKET

    • They key here is lightweight. I did NOT bring a windbreaker or rain jacket of any kind, so if you can help it, it will help to keep you dry and cool. Preferably, get something that has ventilation.

  • HIKING or ACTIVE SANDALS

    • I don’t care how dorky you think you’ll look. These saved my life, because I run SUPER hot. Tennies are great, but when it rains, or when you’re trekking through mud, sandals with a grip come in real clutch

  • BUG SPRAY

    • You'd think that you wouldn't need to bring this and you could just buy it anywhere, but I couldn't find bug spray until I got to a resort, so if you're someone like me, who WILL get eaten alive by bugs, you'll need to bring some from home. Be prepared to get bitten (even with bug spray). Be diligent about spraying yourself down.

  • ANTI ITCH OINTMENT or CREAM

    • Like I said, bug spray helps, but if you’re susceptible, you WILL get bitten. It’s pretty unavoidable, but at least now you can subside the itching. As you can imagine, this is even more impossible to find.

  • SUNSCREEN

    • This may seem obvious, but because locals are so used to the conditions, it's actually not super common to find sunscreen at an affordable price in Costa Rica.

    • It helps to wear your BB cream or face moisturizer with SPF, but if there is any overcast, it will be in your best interest to wear sunscreen. In the same way as bug spray, you're going to want to be on top of this.

  • ATHLETIC SWIMSUITS

    • If you plan on doing any sort of surfing or hiking near waterfalls, it’s just smart to wear a sports bra type suit. I even started wearing it as a sports bra. It was perfect for hiking in the rain.

  • ENERGY & HYDRATION

    • Being in the rain forest where it is humid or in high elevation can get to some people, so be sure to rest up and not expend your energy.

    • Be smart and incredibly religious about hydrating yourself. 

  • ADVENTURE BACKPACK

    • Dakine & Northface make the perfect backpacks for this type of adventure. You don't need a huge backpack, so anything smaller that will fit an extra lightweight layer, your bug spray, sunscreen, and water will be perfecto. 

BEACH LIFE

Beach life here is way different than what you'd expect. They aren't white sand beaches with clear water. It's more like brown pebble beaches with murky water. Don't be alarmed or underwhelmed though. The surf is pretty comparable to Waikiki, and the water feels like a hot tub. Be careful when stepping into the tides, there can be large pebbles and rocks. It'll feel like one of those painful Japanese rock garden foot massages. Also, be careful of the rivers near the ocean... We heard there are crocs!

  • Bathing Suits

    • DUH

  • Cover up

    • Sarong, cover up, or pool sun dress for walking down to the beach

  • Baseball cap or sun hat

    • Baseball cap can double during adventures, so I’d lean in the sporty direction

  • Romper or very light maxi/midi

    • As stated above, you may want to go have a nicer dinner. If you go to an actual restaurant or resort, you can easily dress up a maxi or romper. Remember, the lighter the better. You won’t need anything more extravagant than that.

  • A good book or a good playlist

    • If you do spend time at a resort, you’ll likely have a lot of down time- prep accordingly!

OTHER NOTES:

ILLNESS:

  • If you end up getting sick, most larger towns will have a pharmacy and a person who speaks English that can prescribe you something based on your symptoms

WIFI:

  • Just in case you get lost, it's beneficial to use navigation - This country is totally down with Waze! If you rent a car, there might be a navigation system with built in wifi, but you may consider pocket wifi if you plan to be away from the hotel often.

MONEY:

  • It is not necessary to exchange for the Costa Rican colon. Most places accept US dollars, and will just give colon as change.

TIPPING:

  • Not typically necessary unless you feel inclined to tip whoever helped with your luggage. Restaurants & transportation though… not necessary

DRIVING & TOLLS:

  • If you plan on driving, be cautious. As previously state, this is a country of organized chaos. Other cars will either get in the opposite lane pass you on the freeway or people will straight up walk across the highway to get to work. BE CAREFUL. Stay smart, but don’t be overly cautious. If you are going to drive, you need to adopt their organized chaos mentality. 

  • Be prepared to pay a TON of tolls. Most range from 500 colon to 600. If you’re in local areas, it’ll be much cheaper.

  • Gas Stations: This is where your dictionary comes in handy. They have a fill up service, and you bet your ass they'll ask what you want - in Spanish

DINING:

  • If you’re looking for restaurants, you’ll find plenty, BUT if you want the real, local food, go to a soda. This is basically a restaurant, but super rustic, local, and chill.

  • What to order:

    • Arroz con____: Meaning rice with ____. Sometimes served with veggies, salad, yuca, or fried plantains

    • Casados con____: This will typically be a single plate, multi-course meal (rice, beans, salad, & _____) Sometimes this is served with tortilla, french fries, and/or fried plantains

    • a la Plancha ____: Means whatever you're ordering will be grilled

    • Frito: Means you're probably ordering something deep fried

    • al Ajillo: Usually means it's sauteed in garlic whether that's a garlic butter sauce or garlic and oil

    • Gallo Pinto: Traditional Costa Rican breakfast with rice, beans, eggs, a little cilantro, and sometimes fried plantains

  • MUST TRY:

    • Chicharrones: fried pork belly

    • Yuca Chips: A cactus root shaved and fried into chips

    • Fried Green Plantains: Sweet plantains are great, but fried green plantains are like french fries on crack

  • More food info here

BOOZIN:

  • Imperial or Pilsen is their standard lager beer available.

  • If you want something different and delicious with a little kick, try Guaro - alcohol distilled from cane sugar. It goes great with fresh juice!

SNACKS:

  • TAKE ADVANTAGE of their fresh fruit stands. They thrive off of having fresh ingredients and food, so by golly, stop and eat.

  • As mentioned above, yuca chips are wonderful. You can pick these up at any local grocer or foot mart. Plantain chips are also an awesome, crunchy snack.

AGUA:

  • Don’t drink the water

  • Most restaurants will serve ice. You don’t have to go that far with it. If it’s a restaurant, most of them are fine, but be aware.

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