I just got back from an amazing trip to Costa Rica with my cousin, Ali!  We ziplined.  We went on a coffee and sugar tour.  We basked in hot springs heated by lava.  We hiked volcanoes and hanging bridges.  We saw animals we didn’t know existed and ate things we’d never tried…it was glorious.
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To me, travel is a reality check and an exercise in mind expansion at the same time.  Nothing will make you more grateful for your own cozy, huge bed than a bumpy hostel mattress, or help you see the world from the perspective of a different climate, culture, and country.  It will make you a more confident, open-minded person…if you’re doing it right.  Which brings me to:

How to do it right:

  1. Don’t stay at a fluffy resort.  You might as well be in Tampa.
  2. Eat the traditional (in Costa Rica, “tipical”) foods
  3. Do at least one big thing that scares you
  4. Talk to strangers

Our breakdown using these guidelines:

1. Not a resort:
We stayed in 3 different hostels, each of which had staff that were friendly, helpful, and had the local’s perspective on what to do.  Our first stop was to Monteverde, where we stayed at Camino Verde – owner Andres and manager Jose were so wonderful, caring, and helpful as we figured out how to pack all the activities we wanted to do into our short 5-night stay. (I can’t say enough about that place; if you’re considering that region, STAY THERE.)  We went to the Arenal volcano region for a night, and spent the last two nights at Playa Jaco to relax on the beach.

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That was our deck at Camino Verde, a photo of the owner’s family as a child, and the exterior…they recycled bottles by building them into the walls!

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At Arenal, in the hot springs, and on our way to Jaco with a crocodile view!

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ift shopping, toes in black sand (lava-made!) and with some snacks from 2ArmadillosCo – roasted chickpeas travel well and are deliciously nutritious!  More on my food considerations in a future post.

2. Local cuisine:
The traditional dinner meal there is called “casado.”  It’s a plate with beans, rice, plantain, some sort of meat, and veggies or a salad…I ordered that at least 3 times as we traveled, and each time it was delicious yet unique.  In my experience, if the grammar and translation are terrible, the food is awesome!

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(There were also burgers everywhere.)2013-12-14 19.31.52
What’s that?? A proper serving size of chicken?2013-12-17 14.03.27
This one was fish…perfectly seasoned!

3. Something scary:
I’ve been hearing about the ziplining in Costa Rica for years now…and couldn’t wait to try it.  One of the lines (out of a system of 13!) was over a kilometer long! The second video shows me (bravely) using my phone to take the shot without dropping it hundreds of feet down into the canopy.
[wpvideo wvaOGa56]

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4. Talking to strangers:
The other great thing about not staying at a resort is meeting other travelers who really travel.  We met Scott and Georgia from New Zealand, Lynn and Kim from North Dakota, Ab from Oregon, Florian from Germany, and an family of 5 from Canada – most of them were away from home for at least a week, some up to 4 months!  Some of them will be highlighted in my follow-up post about how coffee is made – and will hopefully be in touch so we can meet again someday!

What are your best travel tips?

2013-12-18 18.21.36-1And then there are sunsets like this…no filter needed!