Black Millennial's Guide to Navigating Costa Rica
So you’ve decided to travel to Central America. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t get much better than Costa Rica. One thing to remember with this unique country is that it’s not a luxury or touristy experience. Don’t get me wrong, it has the capabilities to give the all inclusive resort feel on the pacific coast, but you’d be doing yourself no favors staying in closed doors. Costa Rica is a back pack traveling, hiking, all natural lifestyle country, expect to be blown away with the landscapes and outdoor experiences. You’ll find black sand, brown sand and white sand beaches, volcanoes and hot springs across the country, and they are all just as beautiful as the people, so if you navigate successfully, you’ll get to experience it ALL.
What you’ll need
Your own hair care and skin products- just because you see a Walgreen's doesn’t mean they sell the same products.
Spanish skills- Surprise! Everyone does not speak English, so be prepared by brushing up on you Spanish skills. The travel workshop or a private lesson offered by SPANISH U, will get you RIGHT, just in time for your trip.
Download a currency converter- this is constantly changing and you need to know how much money you’re giving and receiving at all times. Don't get cheated because you didn't do your research! Easy Currency Converter and Oanda are great options.
Timing and transportation
This was my first trip to a Spanish speaking country so I was so excited to be able to use my skills for the first time. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in the world so I knew this would be a great place to sharpen my skills and be completely immersed in the Spanish language. Check out a list the most common phrases I used here!
I decided to go the first week of September, which is considered rainy season, making it much cheaper than going peak season. I flew first class with Delta for $600 :) It did rain, but not enough to where it had a negative impact on my experience. The weather was still beautiful even with intermittent rain and the air felt clean and crisp. If you decide to go during this season make sure you plan out all of your transportation ahead of time, this country is prone to mudslides. I didn't use any apps like Uber or Lyft but the taxis reminded me of New York; little speed demons with little care for stop signs, yikes!
Just like anywhere else there’s lots of options to travel across the country. You can catch a bus from the Pacific coast (Guanacaste) to the Caribbean (Límon) for about $30 per person (super cheap I know, lol), or you can take private van for about $400 round trip. MORPHO VANS was awesome, on time and professional, check them out if you want a specialized experience. Keep in mind that the landscape is filled with hills and mountains, so no matter which you decide to take, you’re gonna feel like Indiana Jones is your driver, nonetheless they offer great conversation and knowledge about their country. It's also customary to tip your driver and stop for lunch on each trip, and as we all know, locals know the BEST places to eat.
Whew chile—the food! Costa Rican food is a mixture of Central American, South American and Caribbean influences. You’ll be able to find anything from rice and peas to Venezuelan fajitas. Everything is savory and can be found at these little gems called Sodas, which are the equivalent of bodegas or take out quick stops in the states, if you see one don't hesitate to try them out.
As for alcohol and drinks, they do not play! At the time my favorite drink was whiskey and lemonade. So I casually ask for one at the bar in San Jose and I’m given a whiskey neat, then I watch as the bartender takes out a bowl of lemons, peels them and then purees them making pure lemon juice sweetened with agave. Is this heaven??? Yes and no lol. By the third day I’d had 6 natural smoothies mixed with alcohol and my stomach was hollerin’! One thing to always remember when you’re traveling somewhere new is that you probably have never experienced the bacteria in their water and food, annnnnnnd this is where the Pepto Bismol comes in. You can try and stick to bottled beverages but it's not realistic, especially if you’re going to be moving around a lot. Make sure you come prepared because the last thing you want to do is spend more time in the bathroom than sight seeing, like I did my last day smh.
First I flew into San Jose, the capital. San Jose is awesome because it offers the city feel, but is literally surrounded by a mountainous wall, so the scenery is quite unique. Supposedly, it was the ultimate fortress during wartime and considered an impenetrable city. I stayed at the Radisson San Jose and it was perfectly situated for walking and finding cultural activities.
*side note* One thing I love about this country is how environmentally conscious it is. Every hotel, business and household are focused on conserving energy and waste. It was incredible.
I stayed there for 2 nights then hopped in our van and went to the Caribbean coastal province of Límon. This is where the trip really began. We stayed in Puerto Viejo, a little backpack town with countless beaches that extended for miles. Whenever I visit a foreign country I immediately want to find people that look like me. We’re everywhere, and I want to see how we live, eat, raise our families, create businesses and anything else I can find out, and that’s exactly what Puerto Viejo offered. Filled with brown and black people, Afro-Caribbean heritage was flowing all through the city. I stayed at Le Cameleon Boutique, which was gorgeous and luxurious but if you’re on a budget, it is not at all necessary to enjoy yourself in Puerto Viejo, in hindsight, I’d recommend a private villa such as Coco Loco Hotels and Bungalows or Villas Serenidad. There are tons of villas ranging from cheap to pricey, all on the same road that travels through all of the caribbean provinces.
What to do
While I stayed in San Jose, I clubbed, all night long and because its the capital, it has a ton of little districts (San Pedro, San Rafael, Zapote) to find high and low price restaurants, clubs, hole in the wall bars and night life. I recommend visiting a museum in every country you visit. As an American, we are only taught one side of history it feels like, so it’s nice to always see others’ side of the story. The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design did not disappoint.
Now, Puerto Viejo was a totally different story. Like I said earlier, its a back pack town so it’s filled with people from all over the world looking to dance and experience Caribbean culture. If you decide to go to the caribbean coast, which I highly recommend over any other region, i suggest renting a bike for around $2 a day, and riding up and down the coast line. There you’ll find every thing from authentic food to random day parties filled with locals and tourists to outdoor activities like horseback riding and zip lining. Costa Ricans are some of the nicest people I have ever met, with the easiest to understand Spanish that I’ve encountered but I do recommend taking some time to work on your language skills, and you’ll be just fine.
Costa Rica also offers lots of natural springs and volcanos on the Pacific coast, so if you want bypass the city of San Jose, then I recommend flying into Guanacaste and hiking up Volcano Arenal before heading to the Caribbean coast. You won’t be disappointed because it is one of the most beautiful sights in the country.
There no right or wrong way to enjoy this country, it has so much to offer and and explore I recommend staying about 5 nights. Your days will be filled with adventure and your nights with camaraderie and festivities, so go! Enjoy all it has to offer and tell me all about your experiences in the comments!