Hasta Luego Costa Rica

San Jose Travel Blog

 › entry 53 of 72 › view all entries
OK, this is a bit of a behemoth.  I thought I'd write a summary of the country as I found it now I'm leaving it.  Although life is full of shades of grey, the old B&W best of/worst of format will suffice for this resumé.  Sorry it is huge, I have tried to break it up though to make it easier.  Photos later when this goddamn machine stops acting up. Onwards...

Best: Has to be Arenal Volcano.  It is simply something one doesn't often (if ever) get to see.  Watching the Earth vomit molten rocks down a hillside really brings to home the power of the thing we all stand on.  There is a churning going on under our feet which could end lives in a second.   To have seen it both times I went was also a fabulous stroke of luck.

Worst: Being woken up at 4am in a building for which I was a caretaker.  There was no one else there, the phone was downstairs and anyone on the end of it spoke a foreign language anyway.  And the thing that woke me up was people trying to break in and for all the world it sounded like they were on the roof above me.  I locked my door, put the light on, got dressed and put on my trainers in case I had to make a run for it.  Never has the dawn been so welcome.

Best: This is quite difficult as Costa Rica isn't renowned for culinary excellence.  I also approach this coming off the back of 14 years worth of vegetarianism.  Ciros Bar does a mean Chicarrones (hunks of pork) and some really excellent smoked ribs.   However, I am going with the barbequed fish I had in Tamarindo caught by one of our Hostel buddies.  It was close to the best fish I have ever had - the Mahi Mahi was delicious and the tuna beyond what I thought tuna could taste like.  Cheers Adrian.

Worst: Papaya; smells like sick and slips down your throat like a slug.  Weirdly, it makes a fabulous milkshake.  Go figure.

Best:  Now we're onto a subject. The beer here is good, every home brand is pretty nice.  Cahuita rum is also something I didn't expect to like (because it is rum) but the addition on coconut milk makes it a real find.  However, the Mojito I stole off of a sleeping beauty was the best, partly because it was a Mojito, partly because it was free and partly because it was illicit.  Thanks, Jen. :)

Worst:  I really can't remember what it was called.  Rob had this cocktail in Bar Morázan which was heinous.  It tasted like salty pear drops.  He was trying to convince me that he was liking it in the end, but I saw straight through such lies.  My Bloody Mary wasn't that much better.

Best: Now, I've seen a lot of these.  It is tempting to stick in Wizard Beach, but as that is in Panama, it seems to be off-topic.   To my mind, the Caribbean side beats the Pacific though for sand quality.  Yet Pacific wins for surfability.  It's a toughy.  I'm going to go with Cahuita though.  All the photos you ever saw advertising a tropical beach are encompassed in its sands and palm trees.  And there is wildlife too - sloths and monkeys are about, and it is possible to snorkel parts of a sadly dying reef.

Worst:  Easy, Puntarenas. Turgid waters and a faintly metallic smell mingle with the worst litter problem I came across.  I pity the cruise passengers who stop off here.  However, if you do go, look for out for a Churchill.  It is a coffee made out of ice cream and looks like a Knickerbocker Glory.  I didn't see them anywhere else.

Best: I had some humdingers, but the Cessna flight to Bahía Drake was fab.  The view from a small propeller plane is completely different to yer big jet and the wobbliness is something you don't really get on a Boeing.  If you get a chance to go over mountains, rainforest and the shore is a small aircraft, take it.

Worst: Mmm, the bus diversion over the the hills between the Cordillera de Talamanca and the Central Mountains via Cartago was hellish.  The normal road from Limón was shut because of a landslide.  I takes longer to go the other way and the driver seemed determined to make up for lost time, regardless of the rain and shite visibility. I had never been scared on a bus until then.  In fact, I haven't after that either despite coming out of Monteverde on a rickity beast of a thing.

Best:  Again, I'd go outside CR for the best I've been in, but of the local ones, I'm plumping for La Botella de Leche.  And the simple reason for this choice is the owner's attitude.  If ever anyone encompassed mi casa, su casa, it is this Argentinian lady. What it means is even though the accommodation looked to me to be a converted cargo container, people just enjoyed being there.  One got the run of the house and for atmosphere it was excellent.

Worst: Now then, this is difficult because it so churlish and, I think, very personal.  But Hotel Túcan in Uvita really annoyed me.  Firstly, the lies.  Their website says "near" to the sea but this simply isn't true, the beach is a 50 minute walk away and you have to pay $6 to get onto it.  It also seemed to try too hard, like a teenager trying to impress his peers.  The surfboard hire for the distant sea is also by far the most expensive I saw.

Best:  A different proposition as different criteria apply.  I choose Hotel el Jardin in Montezuma.  It was lovely, but not the nicest.  However, it is the most fun I have had in a hotel in Costa Rica and I look back with fondness on my time there.  The hammock relaxing was wonderful, the room actually cold with the A/C
and the staff were genuinely nice, which is more than can be said for some places.

Worst: The Aranjuez simply because it was disappointing - another one where the advertised promise was not matched by reality.  The room was a bit crap and poorly decorated.   Nice breakfast though.

Best: There is only one and it has to be Ciros. It has become a home from home.  I feel like Norm from Cheers when I go in. Saúl always greets me with a smile and an Imperial.  They even let me off once when I was financially embarrassed (although I paid them in full when I returned).  I been there enough to see prices rise a bit and for the new decor to become reality.  I will miss you.

Worst: Mmm, I've certainly visited some dives.  Where did I truly hate?  Ah, of course.  I managed to go to Jacó twice without setting foot in it.  However, I was dragged along the third time.  Please, if you ever have the misfortune of visiting Jacó as a non-surfer, avoid The Beatle Bar as if you life depended on it.  Indeed, it might.  It is a large room with a bar in the middle surrounded by stools.  Astride every single one of them is a fat, white bloke in tailored shorts, sandals and socks and a Hawaiian shirt chugging on some beverage in a brown bottle.  Swanning around are lots of women wearing next to nothing looking for business.  It's a hell hole.  To anti-phrase Nike, Just Don't It.

Best: Costa Rica is the home of "Pura Vida", which is an expression of how they like to live their lfe. Literally, it means "Pure Life" and basically is all about being a bit chilled.  For me, the best expression of this in the workplace.  Now, these people work very hard, but drop everything straight away to help people. The person in front of them is the most important thing happening at any time and they will respond to them over everything else.  It is really refreshing to meet a people that put their personal relationships first and foremost.  Costarricenses are tuanis. :)

Worst: There isn't much so this is going to come across as quite petty, but...  Learn to walk please.  They amble all over the place and whilst show great regards to people one-on-one, en masse they are a nightmare.  Walking down the main drag in San José is hellish: people wander then suddenly stop so you bump into them, they also veer randomly towards a place that interests them regardless of who is in there way and they never move, seriously, if you kept walking towards them, they would not get out of your way.  For an Englishman, this is torture because it means you're constantly brushing against people.

As I said, petty. :)

Best: Sometimes, it is nice to be reminded of the place you come from - it gives you an appreciation of where you are and provides a little glow about the soil on which you were born.  I have discovered something and that is that Soft Rock is universal. It reminds me of school discos, bad radio and having long hair.  It has provided an undercurrent of normality in a sea of weirdness.  Bonnie Tyler, I salute you.

WorstReggaeton was spawned by a devil with attention deficit disorder in order to punish his minions with the same damned beat 24/7 in a little musical hell.  When I rule the World, Reggaeton is banned with no exceptions.

Best: It is hard to single out one location, so I need to choose from the perspective of the place, as opposed to the experience it provided. (Christ, what an arsehole! Ed.) There are four locales I would definitely return to if I cross paths with Costa Rica again and of those, Montezuma stands out.  Although it lacks the ethnic diversity of Cahuita, its situation is more dramatic and there is a greater access to a wider variety of nature from there.

Worst: Ironically, it is the place I visited three times.  Jacó itself has some good points, but it is what it stands for that I don't like: land speculation, what I view as negative immigration and all the inherent problems with inappropriate tourism that entails.  I guess that makes me a hypocrite given that my only ever visit to a strip bar is in Jacó and the fact that I had some OK times there makes it seem a little unfair to have a go.  But if I'd have realised Playa Hermosa was only 3 miles around the corner, I would have gone there instead. Bah.

Mattyhill says:
PS - I have grown a beard.
Posted on: Mar 17, 2007
Mattyhill says:
John you are an exceptional good writer and I am surprised. I knew you could write great lyrics and poems but this is a different beast and you hav etaken to it like a Me-Duck to watter (as they say in eastwood). More writing please.

Good luck in Nicquaragua. Think of Joe Strummer and the Sandinistas. But please don't come back wearing some ridulous ethnic hat, weaved out of lentils by peasants.

We miss you buddy!

Posted on: Mar 17, 2007
Amanda says:
John - As you know, I have enjoyed nothing more than following your story in full - and this entry (not as long as I think you fear it is) is such a fantastic summary, because you have taken us along for the ride in all of the previous entries; so we know what you are talking about when you discuss them here. Fabulous. Just as your adventure in Costa Rica is ending, I fear mine is as well, for now, and I have enjoyed it wholeheartedly. I'll miss it more than I think you'll know; it's really taken me on an adventure. There is only one thing I would disagree with you on - and that would be your choice for best beach. I say this because you choose it in part for it's amount of wildlife, including sloths. I can't tell you why, but I have one irrational fear in life - and it is sloths. So a beach where I might see one, is not a beach I'm hip to go to...
Posted on: Mar 06, 2007
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
San Jose
photo by: Isoinspira