2021 Costa Rica Adventure

So, if you’ve read my last couple of posts or know me personally, you know I recently spent some time in Costa Rica! I flew down on August 2nd and back on August 6th……short trip! But, it sure felt good to travel and see something exotic, again. My last long distance trip was Hawaii in January 2020. I did a week in the Adirondacks in September, but that was in-state. I was ready to go “somewhere”! I went from talking to my cousin about all-inclusive resorts to checking out the resort company she uses to deciding on Costa Rica to booking it in about 48 hours…..and the trip was only about a month out!!! Hey – I can be decisive when I wanna be! 🙂

I have to be honest — I got really nervous about it after it was booked. I started to wonder if it was the right time to leave the country. I’m vaccinated and I was perfectly comfortable getting on an airplane and traveling with precautions. But…..leaving the country? Was that wise? I knew I had to get a Covid test with negative results within 72 hours prior to returning to the USA – which was available at the resort for no cost to me…..but, what if my results were positive? Sure, the resort would quarantine me for the 10 days at no additional cost, but that meant I’d be away another unplanned 10 days! I worried myself into a frenzy and almost canceled the trip…..but, with the help of some friends, I backed off that ledge and went…..and everything was just fine….amazing, in fact!

The resort I chose was Riu Palace in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. It was awesome! And, they take the Covid precautions very seriously! In fact, everywhere I went in Costa Rica took it seriously. They still have mask mandates indoors regardless of vaccination status and the cleaning/sanitizing practices were outstanding. Pretty much everywhere I went – but especially at the resort, they had people who’s only job was to clean a specific area…..they would clean it thoroughly from one end to the other and when done start all over again. And, the airport had a sink with hot running water and paper towels outside the entrance – everyone had to wash their hands before they were allowed to enter! One girl in front of me tried to just quickly rinse her hands off and they made her go back and wash with soap. Very impressive! And, no one complained…..well, the girl who tried to rush through did say “come on, my flight is in an hour”, but my thought was, “then why are you just arriving at the airport with just an hour to get through immigration, security, check-in, and get to your gate?”….hhhmmm! Anyway…..my point is, everyone was friendly and complied to the precautions without all the drama you see in the USA. It was refreshing….and comforting!

A little bit about Costa Rica and Guanacaste, in particular. Costa Rica is a Central American country with a Caribbean side and a Pacific Ocean side…..I was on the Pacific Ocean side. It is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast by Panama.

Spanish is their native language, but most speak English, as well. And Catholic is their main religion. In the 1940’s the government decided to abolish their army and redirect the military budget to education and social services. Education is free and mandatory. Therefore, Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in Latin America with a highly educated work force – 98% of their citizens are able to read and write. The social services takes care of their elderly and low income citizens. Of course, that means that workers pay a higher percentage of taxes to help pay for all that.

Costa Rica means “Rich Coast” and was named as such because Christopher Columbus reported finding much riches, such as gold, when he landed there in 1502 on his last voyage to the Western Hemisphere. Their currency is Colon or Colones – the exchange rate is roughly 1 US dollar = 620 CR Colones – it is very colorful and depicts many of Costa Rica’s most famous animals. The currency is also named for Christopher Columbus – or Christobal Colon.

Guanacaste is one of seven provinces – Liberia is the capital of Guanacaste province. Guanacaste is the hottest and driest of all of Costa Rica – it only rains 160 days a year. Guanacaste is also known as the Land of the Cowboys – or Sabenaros. There are lots of cattle and farms. The rich, lush countryside is ripe for growing produce – especially pineapple, bananas, coffee beans, watermelon, and many tropical fruits, which they export all over the world – in particular to the United States. There are many bull rings and rodeos are quite popular. Although – unlike bull rings in Mexico and Spain, they do not kill the bulls when they conquer them in Costa Rica.

Fun fact – Every little town has three things every Costa Rican holds dear: 1) a soccer field, 2) a Catholic Church, and 3) an elementary school.

Costa Rican motto: Pura Vida (pure life or simple life) They use this term to say hello, to say goodbye, to say everything’s great, to say everything’s cool. It is more than just words to them, though – it is a way of life!!!

So – let’s get on with what you really want…..photos and stories from my trip:

THE RESORT:

Like I said, I stayed at the Riu Palace Resort in Guanacaste. There were two Riu resorts on the property – the Riu Palace and Riu Guanacaste. If you stay at either one, you can use the amenities at either resort. I chose not to visit the sister resort because I was only there 3 1/2 days, but I wish I had — I discovered when I went on the day trips that there was a strip of shops between the two resorts that looked nice. So — on the agenda next time is to walk over to the other resort to explore a little and visit the shops on the way.

I don’t speak Spanish – while everyone I encountered did speak English, it was often with a very heavy Spanish accent. I had a hard time, sometimes understanding through the accent. When I arrived at the resort, the front desk clerk rattled off a bunch of instructions and information for me. I thought I got all the important stuff…..until I got to the room. I tried to turn on the lights – none worked – I tried every light switch in the room that I could find – no lights! So, I called the front desk and told them I couldn’t figure out how to make the lights work. He said, “see that box with the green lighted ring around it beside the door?” I said yes. He continued to tell me to put my door key card in it to make the lights work — sure enough, I slipped the card key in it and all the lights came on! My first thought was that it would have been nice if they told me that at check-in…..but then I reminded myself that they probably did!!! LOL

I got to wear this adorable bracelet the whole time I was there…..it identified me as a paying guest, since it was an “All Inclusive” resort — EVERYTHING was included in my room rate – the room, food, drinks, amenities, etc….with just a few exceptions, like the spa services, day trips off resort, shopping, and gratuities.

The photo above (with the shrubs that spell out Riu Palace) is a shot of one of three regular pools on the Palace resort. There is also a separate swim up bar pool, a kids pool, and a splash pool with all kinds of slides and tubes and stuff. The next photos are from my room and around the resort:

Everything in the room was PURPLE…….I was happy….and, yes…..I took advantage of that amazing huge Jacuzzi tub!!! LOL

View from my balcony – I had an ocean view room!

The pools were amazing! I spent some time pool side and in the pool on the day I arrived before dinner and most of my first full day. I especially enjoyed the mosaic lounges where I relaxed in just enough water to keep me cool and wet – so comfortable! At one time, I was on the mosaic lounge with my eyes closed and my arms stretched out in the water just waving them back and forth and felt like someone was watching me. I looked over to the lounge beside me and found a little boy – maybe 2 or 3 – sitting there smiling and looking at me. I said “hello”! His mother, who was in the water at the end of his lounge, said that he saw me running my arms in the water and wanted to do the same. He sat there imitating me for quite a while. It was so cute!!!

My view from the mosaic water lounge

There were LOTS of activities around the pools — in-pool exercise sessions to lively music, ping pong, entertainment, things for kids to do, and so much more!

Here, these entertainers are dancing to YMCA while dressed like the Village People on the roof of one of the pool side bars. What fun!!!

And, there was a beach, too, just beyond the resort property. I walked down to the beach the first morning. I got a t-shirt and some trinkets for my favorite munchkins from the local vendors. I was told that if you took some fruit from the buffet and went to the beach, you could walk a ways down to the forest and the monkeys would come right up to you and take the fruit from your hands!!! OH WOW!!! I really wanted to do that!!! But……the locals told me that it was the hot season and the monkeys tend to stay up in higher elevations in the rain forest. They said I could go down there, if I wanted and I “might” see some monkeys, but I also might waste my time and it was quite a ways down the beach. So…..I decided to not venture out that far by myself. I was disappointed, but, that’s OK!

the beach was nice, but I preferred to relax pool side, rather than on the beach, so my visit on that first morning was the only time I went to the beach.

The evening entertainment was topnotch, too! I was exhausted the first night, so fell asleep before the show, but got to enjoy it the second night. After that, I did day trips that got me back late, so that ended up being the only show I saw, but it was awesome!!! There was a pre-show time to entertain the kids and get them involved, a game show-type thing for the adults, an opening band that was incredible, and then the main show — an international themed musical review.

I spotted a rainbow on the way back to my room, one night, that beckoned me out onto the rooftop to get some photos:

And…….much to my surprise and excitement……there were towel animals left in my room!!! One night, instead of a towel animal, they tied the sheers on my balcony doors in a pretty bow!!! YAY!!! Loved it!!!

THE FOOD:

There were FIVE restaurants on the resort — all available for me to choose from as part of the “all inclusive” package. The main restaurant was a buffet style with some standard items every day and a daily focused theme to change it up from day to day – just about anything you could possibly want to eat was represented. Then there was a Japanese restaurant, a steak house, an Italian restaurant, and a Fusion gourmet restaurant…..PLUS, there were pool side stations for lunch and snacks. I ate at the Japanese restaurant the first night and stuck with the buffet for all my other meals. All the food was amazing!!! Here are some examples:

Vietnamese shrimp and veggie spring roll appetizer at the Japanese restaurant

Japanese main course — tempura shrimp, fish, and veggies — YUM!!!

Japanese dessert – truffle variety with a coconut dipping sauce

Pool side barbecue

Grilled chicken, steak, sausage, and veggies pool side

Shrimp, lobster, roast beef, spring rolls, and veggies from the buffet

The dessert bar on the buffet was so sinful……

I had a big lunch on the first day trip and we got back after sunset, so I just grabbed some fruit and dessert from the buffet on this particular dinner night

Duck, shrimp, spring rolls, veggies – including smashed pumpkin – from the buffet

Another awesome fruit and dessert plate from the buffet

You’d think I gained 20 pounds while I was in Costa Rica…..but, I was really active most of the time and actually lost 2 pounds and still enjoyed all this amazing food!!!

An example of breakfast from the buffet — crepes, churros, cinnamon crispy tortilla chips, and fruit

OFF RESORT DAY TRIPS:

I took two day trips off the resort. There are excursion reps on-site to help you pick the best ways to see Costa Rica. Since I was only there three full days, I had to narrow down what I wanted to see and do. I mainly went with the goal of seeing monkeys!!! I was disappointed I wasn’t able to see them on the beach, so wanted to see them on an excursion. I considered going to a local adventure park that had a zoo with monkeys and sloths and lots of other local animals, but opted, instead to do a river cruise to see animals in the wild. I also chose a sunset catamaran cruise out on the ocean. Here are some photos:

Sunset Catamaran Cruise:

The first day trip I took was a sunset catamaran tour by Marlin Del Rey Tours. The bus for the sunset cruise picked us up about noon-ish. It was a long drive to Playas del Coco (Coco Beach) where the catamaran cruise started. I would have liked more time to spend at Coco Beach – it looked like a nice area to just hang out, shop, and eat! But, we had to get on the catamaran and when we got back, it was dark and we had to get on the bus back to the resort.

I thought the name of the tour company was pretty cool……my grandpa’s name was Marlin!!! 🙂

When we got off the bus and to the beach, we found there were no docks……our catamaran was that one with the sail masts about center in the photo above. The dingy you see heading towards the beach was how we were to get to the catamaran……it was returning from taking the first group out to the catamaran. It could not, of course, come up onto the beach. So, we had to walk out into the water about knee deep (this is the Pacific Ocean, BTW) and climb up into the dingy!!! Excuse me??? If anyone got video of me trying to get into that dingy, I’m sure they’ll win BIG prize money on any funny video contest they enter it in!!! I’m short and not all that flexible, anymore……so, here I am, trying my darnedest to swing my leg up over the edge of the dingy…..which is about waist high….with no success! It seemed impossible! Until the guy behind me offered to help – I told him that if I could just get my leg up that high, I might be OK, so he lifted my leg up and over the edge and then kept me from losing my balance as I got the rest of me in! My hero!!! He also kindly helped a couple other “women of a certain age” get in, as well. You had to see this…..it was hysterical!!! Getting into the catamaran from the dingy and then back out of the dingy when we returned was much easier……and not as funny!

The cruise was amazing……we sailed all long the coast of Costa Rica to a cove where we could get out and swim or snorkel or take the dingy to the beach. I opted to stay on the catamaran and enjoy the views and the fresh air and sunshine — I’m not a strong swimmer and hyper-ventilate when I attempt to snorkel, so wasn’t comfortable getting out into the ocean and I certainly didn’t want to have to get back in that dingy after visiting the beach! But, I had a wonderful time without that part…..I LOVE being on a boat in the water, so I was perfectly happy just enjoying that!

An island shaped like a gorilla face

One of the crew members was on a surf board at all times when passengers were in the water ready to assist if needed.

Then – when everyone was back onboard, we had a very nice lunch – BBQ chicken thighs with rice and tortilla chips and cookies. Of course, it was a drinking cruise, so the booze flowed freely — I, personally, stuck to pepsi, but all the others (except the few under-agers on board) had a REALLY good time. Although, they did limit the amount of alcohol that could be consumed until AFTER the snorkeling portion.

After lunch, they hoisted the sails and we caught wind and sailed at great speed out into the ocean!!! What an amazing adventure!!! I do believe that was my most favorite thing of the whole trip — it was all wonderful, but that…..well, that was incredible….so very special!!! I have never been on a boat with sails before and it was such an awesome experience — I was so excited!!! We got out into the ocean pretty far and saw sea turtles, dolphins, and one of the crew caught an octopus he said would be the crew’s dinner when they got done with the tour.

This is the face of pure joy and by far my favorite photo from all that I took on the trip!!!

I really like this photo, too — our dingy being pulled behind and two passengers watching the sunset

And, then, the sun started to set and it was SPECTACULAR!!! Here we were out on the Pacific Ocean in on a catamaran powered by the wind, watching a huge red ball of fire sink into the horizon……life just doesn’t get any better than that!!!

This one was taken when we were back on shore at Coco Beach just before getting on the bus to return to the resort……a wonderful day……a wonderful tour……..an awesome adventure!!!

River Boat Cruise and Liberia City Tour:

The next day, I got up early to meet the bus at 7:30 am for a full day trip. This tour consisted of another long bus ride to multiple destinations. We saw a lot of the country side while we rode the bus and the tour guide was wonderful with lots of interesting information about what we were seeing.

Our first stop was Llanos del Cortes Waterfalls. Some asked if they could swim under the waterfall and the guide said it was not recommended because there were crocodiles in the area and it was likely to be unsafe. But it was STUNNING to look at!!!

But……there was a bit of a problem with this stop……to get to the waterfall, you have to go down a very long, windy, uneven, awkward, set of steps with just a rope attached to some posts for a railing. Some of the steps were a few inches high, some were about knee high on me……some were level, some slanted drastically……..some had stones, some gravel, some dirt……all uneven surfaces!!! I looked at them from the top and considered skipping getting to see the waterfall – I was sure it was not going to be a pleasant hike down or back up! But…..I do love waterfalls and was told this one was especially amazing! So, I went down — it wasn’t easy, but I did it and enjoyed the views and was glad I did it. Then, I decided I should head back up before everyone else because I knew it was going to be a challenge……well, I got to the first step that was a bit high and it was before the rope started, so I didn’t have anything to grab onto to pull myself up. Luckily, a nice young Costa Rican guy offered to help me and he ended up practically lifting me up just about every step — it was embarrassing and very difficult — by the time I got to the top, my heart was beating out of my chest and I was dripping wet with sweat! But, thanks to the kindness of that young man, I made it and it was all worth it…….the waterfalls were incredible and I would have hated if I had missed it!!!

This is just the bottom section of the stairs — they wind way up and get worse as they go up!!!

The next stop was the river cruise. This was in Palo Verde National Park on the Bebedero River. Before we got on the river boat, we were treated to a snack of fresh fruit and Costa Rican coffee. If you know me, you know I don’t drink coffee. But, I was urged to try it in Kona, Hawaii and loved it. I was also urged to try it here…..and, you know what? I really liked that coffee, too!!! Very smooth — no bitterness or harsh taste at all. I’m very glad I tried it — just a taste – it was very hot that day and I didn’t really want a hot drink, but I’m glad I tried it!

The boat ride down the Bebedero River was very pleasant. Lots of beautiful flora to see. We also saw lots of wonderful animals and birds…….I wasn’t able to get many good photos – most of the animals and birds were camouflaged enough that we could see and enjoy them, but it wasn’t great for photos. BUT — luckily, there was a young guy from the tour company on the tour and he took some great shots with a professional camera. He was kind enough to email them to us. So — any photos you see below that are of critters that can be seen well and one of the passengers on the boat are all from Roberto Rojas from AmStar Tours……thank you, Roberto!!! The rest of the photos in this post are all mine taken with my iPhone.

Our guide and the boat captain were on the look out and pointed out all the animals and birds with a laser pointer and told us a bit about each one. We saw a lot of crocodiles (there are no alligators in Costa Rica – only crocodiles and caimans). We also saw Basilisk Lizards – aka Jesus Christ Lizards because they run on top of the water, tiger herons, iguanas, kingfishers, a couple beautiful pink Roseate spoonbills that took flight for us (I saw one once in Zoo America at Hershey Park in PA – huge and stunning bird – never thought I’d see one in the wild, but now I have), and several other critters. It was so cool!!! The boat captain slowed down and got as close as he could whenever we came up on an animal.

This is a Basilisk Lizard on the top of the log just about center of the photo

This is our guide – Marvin – and our boat captain. They were great guides!!!

So knowledgeable and interesting!

All those little dots on this dead tree trunk are actually tiny BATS hanging on the bark!!!

They are resting for the day and at night they fly around searching for insects to eat.

This is a Tiger Heron

An Iguana

This is a Guanacaste Tree: Enterolobium cyclocarpum, commonly known as guanacaste, caro caro, monkey-ear tree or elephant-ear tree. It is abundant in Costa Rica = especially in Guanacaste – and is the National tree of Costa Rica.

Another Basilisk Lizard

A crocodile

A different variety of iguana

This and the next two photos are of the pink Roseate spoonbills we saw — so beautiful!!!

And……DRUM ROLL PLEASE……..the main reason I picked Costa Rica……the chance to see monkeys in the wild…..and I did!!! The photos I got were horrible – so blurry and hard to pick out the monkey from the tree branches! But, thanks to Roberto, I have a few GREAT photos!!! These are all howler monkeys…..and, I got to hear them howl, too! Our guide made monkey call noises and one of them talked back to him! They kept up their wonderful “conversation” for quite a while…..it was so amazing!!! I was all tingly I was so excited!!!

I didn’t see as many or as up close as I had hoped…..but I saw them…..and I heard them……and I am SO VERY HAPPY!!! And, thanks to Roberto, I actually have tangible proof outside of my memories!!!

When we finished the river cruise, we had lunch – our guide told us our lunch would be chicken rice and beans and that “we eat a lot of that here – for breakfast we have rice and beans – for lunch we switch it up a bit and have beans and rice”! LOL It was so good — the rice was amazing with bits of chicken in it and the tortilla chips were great! I’m not a big beans fan, but they were very good and I ate quite a bit of them. There was also cole slaw. It was all so good — just WAY too much to eat!!!

the next part of the tour was a drive through the city of Liberia. Liberia is known as the ‘White City’ for its white gravel roads and whitewashed houses. The town is the capital of the Guanacaste province and is the largest city in northwestern Costa Rica. We were told that it was named Liberia – land of the free ones – when Nicaraguans fled Nicaragua in the 1700s to freedom.

This is the original Catholic Church that the Nicaraguans sought refuge in.

An original adobe home built by the Nicaraguans in the 1700s – made from clay, sand, cow pies, and sticks

Our final stop was at a huge gift shop – it was amazing!!! I only bought a refrigerator magnet and exchanged some US dollars for Colones for my nephew (who collects foreign currency), but it was great to look around. I really wish I had a way to take back one of these beautiful hammocks for my back yard!!!

Some other photos I took on the drive through the country side:

A cemetery we drove by

A tilapia farm

they raise tilapia in these ponds with wheels that aerate the water to provide oxygen for the fish

The homes I saw tended to be very small. Most, but not all, had iron bars on the windows and doors and either a chain-link, wire, or iron fence and gate with barbed or razor wire on the top of the fence. Many also had a horse hitched in the front yard with lots of chickens and sometimes a cow or ox in the yard, too.

So…….that’s my Costa Rica Adventure!!! I had a fantastic time and absolutely loved Costa Rica and the resort I stayed at. It was way too short, though…..there were several things I wished I had more time to do, but you know that that means —- I have to go back sometime to do the stuff I missed out on!!! And, I will, for sure….just next time, maybe not during a pandemic!!! 🙂

Pura Vida!!!

Major “FIRSTS” for me on this trip:

  1. First time in Central America
  2. First time in Costa Rica
  3. First time staying at an All-Inclusive Resort
  4. First time on a boat with sails soaring through the water under wind power
  5. First time seeing monkeys and other exotic critters like that in the wild
  6. First time with my feet in the Pacific Ocean (I’ve been TO and ON the Pacific Ocean, but never IN it!)
  7. First time getting a Covid test (thank goodness it was negative)

Hoping this Delta variant doesn’t make it more difficult to continue to travel…..now that I have the itch!!! AND…..I have a couple trips booked and more in the thinking about or planning stages. I have a lot more I want to see and do……

4 Comments on “2021 Costa Rica Adventure

  1. Wow what a wonderful time you had!! The food looked just scrumptious. As I may not ever be able to visit Costa Rica, I am very thankful for your beautiful photos and complete story of your trip. You sure got a lot out of the 6 days! I congratulate you on your adventure and wish you the best on future vacations.

    • LOL – I didn’t do the swim bar…..I got the multi-colored punch at the pool side BBQ, but it was so strong, I didn’t drink it! Not much of a drinker…..that part of the resort was lost on me, unfortunately!

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