My wife, Lex, and I went backing packing in Costa Rica. We made three lodging reservations in three different cities but didn’t have any transportation booked ahead of time. We booked our reservations through Airbnb. I had never used it before, so I was a little nervous about it. My wife had used it once when she went to Paris, so she wasn’t worried at all.
The first place we booked was in Monteverde. Monteverde is a town in the mountains that is literally in the clouds. The place we reserved was a tiny little two bedroom house that the owner built by hand. We just booked one room and not the whole house. It was only $19/night! I was 23 and broke, don’t judge.
The interesting part was figuring out how we were going to get to Monteverde. Lex was confident in Airbnb, but a little shaky on the public transportation. We did as much research as we could before arriving, but all we found was a bus schedule and private shuttle services. Since we were on a tight budget, we planned on taking the public bus. The bus was only a couple of dollars to ride.
Flight Delay Almost Made Us Homeless
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We flew into Juan Santamaria International Airport. Our connecting flight was delayed, putting us on a tight schedule. When we finally arrived in Costa Rica, I was a super excited but a bit nervous. This was my first time leaving the country, and we had quite a trek ahead of us.
My Spanish was horribly rusty, so my wife did all of the talking when we first arrived. Her friend had been to Costa Rica once and told her to only take the red taxis. So our first mission was to catch a taxi to the bus station. We were on a tight schedule due to the plane delay and had about 45 minutes to get to the bus station before our bus left. The bus station was about 15 minutes away. Lex and I hopped off the plane and hit the ground running. We breezed through customs and were outside of the airport in a few minutes.
When I saw the red taxis, I thought Lex had mixed up the colors. The little red taxis looked like they had been through the ringer. Lex assured me that they were the best taxis and she flagged one down. When we got in, I didn’t feel much better.
I distinctly remember a quarter being lodged in the radio panel to keep it together. But after the taxi driver started talking, I felt a lot better. He was nice and spoke pretty good English. He got us to the bus station safely, and we made it in time to catch the bus to Monteverde. If we had missed the bus, we would have been homeless for the night.
Did I mention that the bus ride was six hours? Yes, six hours all the way to the coast and up the mountains. It was a long bus ride, and we were bubbling over with excitement and nervousness. I was finally in another country and about to stay in an Airbnb with a host family! I was so excited.
Monteverde And Our First Hurdle
We had a little mishap with the bus. It was pretty dark by the time we got to Monteverde. We couldn’t see very well. All we knew was that the stop we were supposed to get off at was by a specific gas station. When we got to the gas station, I asked Lex if it was the right one. She didn’t think it was so we kept going.
By the time we got to the next stop, we knew we had messed up. The next stop was further up the mountain, and it was pitch black. We got off there and tried to catch a taxi back to the gas station. All the taxis were taken by the other passengers on the bus before we could get one.
We didn’t know what to do so we stood around looking confused. We thought about walking back down to the gas station, but it was a couple of miles away. It was really dark and we didn’t know how good of an area we were in or what kind of wildlife could be out that late at night. Before we could make a decision on whether we should walk or not, a local asked us if we needed a ride.
He didn’t speak English. I could understand him, but my Spanish was too rusty for me to communicate clearly. Luckily, Lex’s Spanish was pretty sharp. We knew it was our only chance to get back to the gas station, so we agreed that we would ride with him. Lex relayed the message in Spanish, and they agreed on a price. He only charged us roughly one dollar. So we hopped into his old Jeep and off we went.
It Was A Toss Up
At that point, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He could have taken us anywhere. We didn’t have cell phone service, and I barely spoke the language. Before I could start freaking out too badly, we arrived at the gas station. I was geeked and couldn’t wait to tell people about our first little adventure!
When we arrived at the gas station, our host family was supposed to be there waiting on us. We thought they left since they didn’t see us get off the bus. The driver waited there with us until our host family showed up. It was only a few minutes, but he didn’t have to do that. He wanted to make sure we were alright.
When we first hopped in his car after missing our stop, I was having all kinds of thoughts. Come to find out; he was one of the nicest guys I had ever met. That was our first taste of Costa Rican hospitality.
Meeting The Host family
We transferred our bags into our host Eli’s truck. He was the husband of the house, and his wife’s name was Teresita. When we arrived at their house, they had a big guard dog named Rex patrolling their property. He was friendly as long as his owners introduced you. The house was on an acre of land and had a wire fence around it. Teresita gave us a warm welcome.
She introduced us to her two children, Tracy and Esteban. Also, Teresita had already prepared food for us and made coffee. After we had finished eating, she gave us a nighttime tour of their property. They had chickens and a plethora of flora and fauna on their land. It was beautiful.
Settling In The Mountains
After the tour they let us use their computer to email our families. Our families were worried about our style of travel. Most of my family members had never been out of the country. All they could picture were the tourist horror movies like Touristas. After emailing them we went to bed, excited for our stay in the mountains.
The next morning, we woke up to a delicious breakfast prepared by Teresita. It consisted of Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice), fried plantains, and fresh eggs laid by her hens. Scrumptious!
After breakfast, Teresita gave us pamphlets of all the cool things to do around the area. She worked at a hotel as a receptionist, so she knew about a lot of activities. We only had a couple of days in Monteverde, so we were not able to do all of the cool things that she showed us. We chose the three best activities.
Ziplining Through The Mountains
The first thing we wanted to do was to go ziplining. I had never been ziplining before, and Lex raved about her experience ziplining in Jamaica. Teresita and Tracy helped us pick a place. We decided to go to Monteverde Extremo.
It was known for having an extra long zipline that was over a half mile long and 600 feet high. When we arrived, there was a Macaw out front and a baby snake on the counter. It was cool to be right in the thick of things.
After getting our gear, we had to take a mini ziplining lesson. It was quick and painless. We proceeded to zipline through the cloud forest. It was unbelievable. The views were breathtaking.
We ziplined from mountain to mountain. During one section of the ziplining tour, we got to take a rope swing. I felt like Tarzan!
After wrapping up at Monteverde Extremo, we grabbed some empanadas and headed back to our Airbnb.
Hiking In A Cloud Forest
The second big thing we did was visit the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. We decided to walk there, which was a journey in and of itself. Unfortunately, we grossly underestimated how long it would take to get there and missed the tour by a longshot.
The next tour was several hours later. We had two options, to make the trek back to town or hike the trail by ourselves. Of course, we chose to go on the hike by ourselves. We weren’t going back without seeing any of Costa Rica’s incredible wildlife. I’m not going to lie; I was a tad scared. The Children’s Eternal Rainforest had jaguars and monkeys, both of which could probably take me in a fight!
We didn’t see any jaguars on our hike, but we did see a troop of monkeys and a lot of other animals. Seeing a troop of wild monkeys in their natural habitat left me awestruck. There was no barrier between the monkeys and me.
They could have approached me if they wanted to. I had no safety net. Seeing them swing from tree to tree, moving with so much power and intention was a sight to behold. I’ll never forget it. It’s much different than going to a zoo where animals live in captivity. These monkeys seemed happy and at ease.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The last thing we did was take a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park. It was nothing short of beautiful. We hiked some of the trails and scoped out some wildlife before heading to the beach. We even saw a three-toed sloth! Lex and I really wanted to see one, so we were super stoked when we finally saw it. It looked like it was moving in slow motion. I wondered if we looked like a bunch of crazy people trying to take life too fast. The Sloth sure wasn’t in a rush.
Further down the trail, we ran into a troop of monkeys. They were right above our head and began throwing stuff at us! It was surreal. I didn’t know if they were playing or shooing us away. Manual Antonio is a pretty popular place, so I figured they were just playing around.
The trail led us to a white sand beach that was absolutely gorgeous. There were several iguanas on the beach sunbathing. A little coati even came to the edge of the rainforest to check us out but quickly scurried back into the forest.
After exploring that beach, we got back on the trails and headed to the main beach. This one was the kind of beach you camp out and relax on. We set up shop and relaxed in the sun.
I wanted to get in the water, but Lex didn’t want to at first. I took a quick dip in the water, and when I came back, we had a visitor. A little coati was rummaging through our stuff! Lex was lying there with her eyes closed and didn’t even notice it. I pointed it out, and she freaked out a little bit.
She shooed it away which made me kind of sad. It was so cool to watch the little guy use his hands to go through our bag. I wanted to see what he would have taken. Lex made the smart decision, because if he had taken our wallets, we would have been screwed.
That was our last big activity in Monteverde. Throughout our stay, our host family went above and beyond to make sure we had a great time. They gave us great recommendations, made breakfast every day, and taught Lex how to make fried plantains and Gallo Pinto. She still makes both of those dishes to this day. Monteverde was my first experience with Airbnb, and it was fantastic.
Teresita helped us figure out the bus schedule. We woke up early, and she walked us to the bus stop. This time the bus wasn’t a straight shot. We had to transfer buses in Puntarenas to get to our next destination, Jaco Beach.
Riding the public bus in Costa Rica was a cultural experience in itself. Little children would get on the bus to go to school; adults rode the bus to get to work, and tourists rode it as well. When older ladies would get on a packed bus, men would get up and give the women their seats. It happened every time.
One time there was a spider on the bus. In the states, somebody would have squashed it. But not in Costa Rica. A guy captured it and released it outside of the bus. I’m glad we rode the bus because it gave me a chance to see a little more of the culture outside of a traditional tourist setting.
Arriving In Jaco
We arrived in Jaco in the afternoon. This time we reserved a condo, not just a room. I was not so nervous about this Airbnb experience since the first one went so well. The bus dropped us off just a few hundred feet from the condo. We met up with the host and got settled in at the condo.
Jaco was a lot different than Monteverde. Monteverde was a quaint little mountain town with lots of places to go adventuring nearby. Jaco was more like a small city right on the beach. Jaco had nightlife, prostitutes, and a ton of expats.
Conversing With Residents Was Clutch
We talked to some of the expats, and they gave us the rundown on Jaco from an American expat perspective. There was one bar they told us to avoid because it was mainly a prostitute hookup bar. We were grateful for the inside scoop.
In Jaco, we relaxed a lot more. Our condo was two blocks from the beach, so we made several trips there. A local told us about a cool little area about a half mile down the beach that was created by a volcano. He told us that we had to go in the morning because there was a stream that we had to cross. If we waited too late to go, the tide would rise, and the stream would have been too high to cross.
Visiting The Volcanic Rock
One morning, we took his advice and made the short trip to the volcanic rocks. There were puddles in the rocks which had different kinds of fish and even some tiny crabs. It was really cool. We were the only two people there, so it was nice and relaxing.
The volcanic rock section was different than the main beach. The main beach was your typical beach. The sand led right up to the street. The volcanic beach led to a forest. There were no streets anywhere in sight. We were told that sometimes monkeys would come from the forest and visit the beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any monkeys during our morning trip.
Exploring Jaco Beach
While in Jaco, we walked all around the city and explored different restaurants and bars. There were some attractions not too far from the city, but we opted just to relax and bum around the city. It was a nice change of pace from trekking for miles in Monteverde.
One thing that was unique to Jaco beach was the plethora of iguanas roaming around. There were tens of them, if not hundreds. They hung out near a fresh fruit smoothie joint and were scattered around town.
When we were buying smoothies, we saw an iguana sneak up and bite a chunk off of a banana! In America, I think the employee would have gotten frustrated and tried to shoo the iguana. Not in Costa Rica.
The lady working the stand took the banana, broke it into pieces, and threw it out near the group of iguanas. They feasted on that banana!
Every day in Costa Rica led me to question my beliefs, especially with how I treat animals and insects. I haven’t killed a spider since leaving Costa Rica. Now I capture and release them.
Final Stop: San Jose
After wrapping it up in Jaco, we hopped back on the bus and headed for San Jose. We didn’t know what to expect because we hadn’t researched San Jose as much as the other cities.
Lex and I picked San Jose for our last destination because it was 15 minutes from the airport. Taking a 4-hour bus ride on the day of our flight was not something we wanted to do.
When we got to San Jose, we were clueless. The bus station was a couple of miles from our Airbnb. We didn’t really know where our Airbnb was at first. All we knew was that it was by the Nicaraguan Embassy.
By this time in our trip, my Spanish was becoming conversational. My wife and I asked some locals if they knew where the Nicaraguan Embassy was located. Nobody knew where it was. Looking back, the Nicaraguan Embassy would only be relevant to Nicaraguans and embassy workers. I see why nobody knew where it was located.
We Were Lost In A Big City
San Jose reminded me of New York. It was a bustling city, and people seemed to be in a hurry. This was drastically different from Monteverde and Jaco.
In Monteverde, someone probably would have offered to drive us to our destination or at least find us some help. I became spoiled with Costa Rican hospitality and admittedly failed to plan the San Jose leg properly.
In hindsight, I should have looked it up on a map before catching the bus. I guess I just relied on the friendly locals to direct me. We walked around for about 45 minutes, wondering aimlessly. We didn’t know what to do.
Google Invaded My Privacy And Saved The Day
I pulled my phone out and looked at a map. I was just scrolling up and down to see if I could find the embassy and then I noticed a star. The star had the details of our reservation. Google saved the day! The search giant had gone through my emails and put the details of the reservation on my Google maps.
I always wondered why I gave Google permission to troll my emails, but now it was all starting to make sense. All of the times I let Google invade my privacy was leading up to this one glorious moment. The moment when Google saved my wife and me from wondering around aimlessly in Costa Rica for hours.
Finding our Airbnb was bittersweet. We were happy to know where it was, but we realized we had been walking in the wrong direction. Two and a half miles later, we arrived at our destination, Casa 69. This place was more like a small hotel in a big city. We chose it because it was close to the action.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
In San Jose, we went shopping a lot. My wife fell in love with the fashion there. In the states, it can be hard for her to find clothes that fit perfectly because her butt is a tad big for her tiny frame. She doesn’t have a Kim K behind or anything; it’s just a little bigger than her frame. But in Costa Rica, they were no strangers to curves.
We ended up buying her several pairs of leggings and jeans. Not only did they fit perfectly, but they were also priced way below what we would pay in the states. We bought as many pairs as we could fit in our suitcase.
We also visited a big flea market and stocked up on souvenirs for our families.
Another cool experience was going to Chinatown. There’s something cool about speaking Spanish with people who have thick Chinese accents. I never think about accents in any language but English, but they’re a real thing.
In Chinatown, we shopped and ate. We spent a couple of hours there before going to explore other areas of San Jose.
Our time in San Jose can be summed up in three words: shopping, eating and exploring. We pretty much just walked around the city trying different restaurants, looking for good deals on clothes, and exploring the big city culture.
One Of A Kind Food Truck
One of the more unique things we saw was a food truck. Not the kind of food truck you’re thinking of. It was an 18-wheeler. A family was running a street-food style restaurant out of an 18-wheeler that was parked on the sidewalk. I wanted to stop and get food there, but my wife wasn’t having it.
There was a little shower on the outside of the truck, which made us think the the truck doubled as a mobile home. Culturally, we were in another world. I could never picture that happening in the United States.
They would have had to have all kinds of permits, which they probably couldn’t afford, to run a restaurant. I don’t have any judgments about either country’s standards or regulations, but it’s fun to experience both ways of living. Pura Vida!
One of the most memorable moments in San Jose was probably something that will never happen again in my whole life. We were walking down a hill on our way to go shopping. All of the sudden a loud screeching noise was piercing our ears.
As we turned around to see what was causing the noise, several people started yelling, “Cuidado! Cuidado! Cuidado!” It means “watch out” in Spanish. We quickly identified the threat.
An SUV tire was rolling straight at us! It had popped off of an SUV going downhill, causing the axle to make a loud screeching noise as it tore up the pavement. The tire was barreling towards us and picking up speed. We quickly got out of the way and became spectators of this little fiasco.
The tire kept going for quite a while, bouncing and crashing into things, before a guy kicked it over. He then rolled it all the way back to the SUV. I’ll never forget that moment. It was full of excitement, fear, and adrenaline.
You never know what you’ll encounter as you travel. Little moments like that are priceless, especially when you travel with a companion. My wife and I laugh about that moment to this very day.
Goodby Costa Rica
On our last day, we checked out of the Airbnb, ate breakfast, and caught a bus to the airport. I wasn’t ready to leave. I was still working in corporate America and living in my mom’s basement with my wife.
Costa Rica was a little slice of paradise, and I wasn’t looking forward to returning to my subpar life. When I go back to Costa Rica, I will definitely visit Monteverde. That’s probably where I’ll start my next trip, but who knows.
There was a lot that we didn’t get to do and a lot of cities