What to Pack for Costa Rica?

Thinking about taking a trip to the tropical rainforest country of Costa Rica? Here are some things you might want to know before you go, and some suggestions of what to take with you!

1. Lots of sunscreen! I don’t care if you say “Oh I never burn…” Unless you are accustomed to the strength of the equatorial sun, you will burn. I used Hawaiian Tropic450

2. A good, lightweight rain jacket. Because when traveling in a rainforest, it can literally start raining at any moment. Choose something breathable, such as The North Face Venture Rain Jacket.

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The North Face Venture Rain Jacket

3. Watersport sandals. You will be glad to be wearing shoes that stay on your feet well and you don’t have to worry if they get wet, especially for activities such as ziplining and crawling in and out of boats. I like the ones from Teva.

4. Have lots of colones (the currency used in Costa Rica) on hand in various denominations. Many of the shops don’t except dollars or credit cards, and most locals appreciate it when you have the currency they actually use. Tip: pay attention to how much money you hand over when making a purchase, and make sure you get the appropriate change back. One of the locals we spoke with said it is not uncommon for merchants to try to rip off tourists who aren’t familiar with using the local currency. This never happened to us, but it couldn’t hurt to pay attention when making purchases. Also, do your currency exchanging after arriving in Costa Rica at a local bank or at your hotel. You will get a better exchange rate over there than you will at home or at the airport.

5. Quick-dry clothing. It is crazy humid in Costa Rica, and it is rainy and hot. Your clothes will most likely get wet. So unless you want to be uncomfortable all day and risk horrors such as chaffing, wear clothes that will dry out quickly.

6. Sandals with treads that can get wet. When exploring the city, my best friend wore the squishy foam kind of flip flops and kept slipping on the weirdly slick concrete. I wore a pair that had a firmer rubber sole with slight treads and I was fine.

7. Underwater camera. Whether you are actually snorkeling or going into the water, or just hanging out in the city, an underwater camera is very useful to have in Costa Rica. Obviously it was fun to have at the beach for taking pics out in the ocean, but it also came in handy when it was raining. I use the underwater cameras from Fujifilm.img_main05

8. Multiple bathing suits. Ok, so this one is less of a necessity and more of a personal comfort choice. But seriously, it is so humid in Costa Rica, and nothing ever dries. Putting on a wet bathing suit is one of the worst things ever, so I would bring enough to at least give each bathing suit a couple days off in between uses. Personally, I brought a different bathing suit for each day, because I am addicted to buying swimwear and own more than anyone could ever need.

9. Lots of water. This one is muy importante!! It is hot and humid, and you don’t want to risk heat exhaustion or passing out during your adventures. So drink up! And then drink some more.

10. Tinted BB cream w/ SPF. The heat and humidity and rain can wreak havoc on your makeup, but I know us girls still want to look fabulous! When doing outdoor adventures, I opt for a tinted BB cream with SPF. Doing triple duty as a moisturizer, sunblock, and cover up, a BB cream is easier on your skin than wearing regular foundation, and less heavy and yucky. My personal fav is Benefit’s The Big Easy Liquid to Powder SPF 35 Foundation.s1580885-main-hero

11. A good map of the city, because foreign city streets can get confusing, and GPS will only get you so far. A map that shows landmarks is even better, because sometimes streets aren’t always marked (which was definitely the case in San Jose).

12. A camera with good zoom, or at least a good pair of binoculars. Sometimes spotting critters high up in the trees is difficult. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how the guides can spot them so easily. But for those of us whose eyes aren’t used to finding animals in trees, we need the help of technology.  Were it not for my camera, I never would’ve been able to see the one and only sloth we encountered on our trip.

13. Lightweight clothing. It is hot in Costa Rica, and have I mentioned it is humid? Clothes that are lightweight, breezy, and don’t cling to your skin will be your best friend.

For example:

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14. A small, non-flashy purse that can get wet. This isn’t the place to break out your best designer handbag. It is hot, humid, and can start to rain without notice… the last thing you want to worry about is having your nice purse get ruined. In addition, they say pick-pocketing is a common occurrence in downtown San Jose (though it didn’t happen to us), so having an expensive purse readily visible is like painting a target on yourself. A bag like this roomy nylon shoulder bag from REI is a good choice $65:5a6e4535-c84f-4283-ac55-64e0d09f126b

15. A hat and sunglasses. This one doesn’t have any particulars or require any explanation- it is hot, bright outside, and the sun’s rays are intense. You will be infinitely more comfortable if you have these things with you, both in and out of the city.

Happy travels! Slainte!!

Have anything you feel should be added to this list? Post it in the comments!

San Jose, Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, filled with diverse areas to visit, but almost all trips start at San Jose. San Jose is the capitol of Costa Rica, and more importantly to tourists, where their international airport is located. Because we didn’t have a ton of time to spend in Costa Rica, we decided to make San Jose our home base for the next 9 days and book day excursions to see the other parts of the country. This ended up working out perfectly for us! It provided a good sampling of the country, and gave us a good idea of which parts we would like to visit again someday. But between our tours, we spent our free time walking around this fascinating city! There was a lot to see and do in San Jose, but a day or two is more than enough to see pretty much everything you would want to see. Here are some highlights of our adventures (Fair warning: this will be a somewhat lengthy post, with lots and lots of pictures)-

We took a red eye flight out of LAX to San Jose… which always seems like a good idea at the time, until you arrive at your destination at 6:00 A.M., exhausted due to the struggles of sleeping on a plane.

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Our hotel! Hotel Colonial, in downtown San Jose. The room was nothing to write home about, but the front desk staff was amazing, it was within walking distance of all the cool stuff to see in the city, and felt clean and safe. Plus the price was a total bargain!

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Hotel courtyard

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and pool.

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Oh, and the hotel also came with free breakfast. Which was delicious even after 9 days of being served the same thing everyday. Seriously… my sister even looked up a recipe to make it back at home after the trip.

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After a quick nap, it was time to wander the city! Stop #1: Mercado Central. A man we met on the plane told us about an ice cream shop in this market, so we began the hunt to find it!

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Oh my… this market is a labyrinth of souvenir shops, restaurants, grocery stands, and everything other type of shop you can possibly think of. Finding that one particular ice cream shop proved tricksy…

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But we found it!!

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And it did not disappoint. This shop has been making ice cream by hand since, well, a long time ago, and it is ridiculously tasty!! So if you’re ever in San Jose, make sure to seek out this ice cream place. It is the only one, and it is delicious. Plus the mercado is just worth exploring anyways.

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It started raining really hard while we were in there, so we just kept exploring!

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I mean, they even sold live chickens…

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More culinary tips for San Jose: ask any local, and they will tell you to try chifrijos. Don’t ask me what’s in it, cause I sure couldn’t tell you, but it was good! I hear it is popular to eat paired with a beer.

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My personal favorite from Costa Rica: yuca frita! They taste like weird french fries, and these were dripping with garlic butter. Yum!!

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Surprisingly enough, we could not find a single Starbucks. Apparently they are not that common in Costa Rica. We asked the front desk at our hotel where to go for delicious coffee beverages, and they directed us to El Tostador. Just a couple blocks from the hotel, but once again, it was pouring rain, so we donned the rain gear and set out for coffee!

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We made it just in time- when it isn’t peak tourist season, everything closes super early, like by 7 P.M, 8 at the latest.

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More city exploring!

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There were So. Many. Pigeons.

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I loved all the street art throughout the city!!

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Visiting the National Museum, which is housed inside an old fort. Pretty cool.

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The museum entrance leads into a butterfly garden… they were so pretty!

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Looking for invaders through the old fort watchtower windows

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Inside the fort prison cells

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Some of my favorites from the museum’s collections:

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Haha I can never pass up a fun photo op

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Hahaha

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The only places open late at night: pastry shops!!

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We bought this bountiful feast…

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Shopping at another mercado. This one is all souvenir stands, but they have some seriously cool stuff here

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We stumbled upon this awesome jewelry shop where this guy hand makes very cool jewelry… we may or may not have spent a small fortune here. But his pieces were just so cool and reasonably priced! It couldn’t be helped.

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He even gave us these free rings, and told us anytime we receive unwanted male attention, flip them off and say “Pura Vida”!!

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The culinary adventures continued, as we found some Costa Rican style tamales-

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Totally not like the tamales we are used to in CA.

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And then as I do on all travels, I dragged everyone to the local Hard Rock Cafe!

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Another shot glass for my collection, woo!!

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Trying the local liquor, guaro… I don’t know how it tastes by itself, but it sure was good in a cocktail!

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Trying the local burger… another must-do when at the Hard Rock Cafe.

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Whew. Long post! There was just so much to see and eat in San Jose!!

Manuel Antonio National Park

Our last day in Costa Rica had its ups and downs, but ended up being my favorite location we visited. The tour to Manuel Antonio National Park started out beautiful… the weather was nice, the guide was awesome, and they served us a tasty breakfast on the way to the park (which was roughly 2 hours or so from San Jose). Cars are not allowed in Manuel Antonio, so we had to park in the little town and enter on foot. It was an easy walk, but by the time we reached the park entrance, it started to rain. And rain hard. Everyone sought shelter wherever they could find it…

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But sadly the rain showed no signs of stopping, and since we didn’t want to waste away our day at a guard shack, we decided to venture out into the rain. Always ill-prepared for the weather, I had forgotten my rain jacket on the bus (good thing I remembered to pack it…sigh). There were no ponchos or coats available to purchase in the immediate area, so the guards offered me a garbage bag. I was able to put my crafty fashion skills to use, and turned it into a poncho!

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I was none too pleased to have to wear a trash bag though, so if you ever visit this park, regardless of the time of year, throw a poncho or rain jacket into your day pack! Better to have it and not need it than to end up looking like this-

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Part way through the hike into the park, the rain finally did stop, and I was able to actually enjoy the rest of the walk through the rainforest.

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The park has tons of hiking trails, but our time was limited so we only did this one and then headed to the beach! Our guides had warned us about the monkeys, and we quickly learned they weren’t kidding. There were monkeys and raccoons everywhere!!! And they are bold little critters. The had no problems being around people and seemed fairly aggressive, running straight up to people and stealing their bags and food. So listen to the guides… be careful and watch your stuff!

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They sure are cute though…

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We made it to the beach! We bought these cute colones towels at a mercado in San Jose

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The current at this beach was really strong… I am joking around in this picture and am a strong swimmer, but if you’re not, maybe don’t venture too far out from shore.

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We were trying to take cute beach pics, but at this moment, my bestie caught a raccoon trying to run off with my snorkel gear (I didn’t even have food in that bag!), and a chase ensued. We were able to save the snorkel gear, but let this serve as another reminder: keep an eye on your stuff.

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And then some more monkey photos as we were leaving the park, cause they are just too darn cute!

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On the drive back to San Jose, we saw one of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen… It was nearly impossible to capture it from the back of a moving bus, but believe me, it was incredible.

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Of all the places we visited in Costa Rica, this one was my favorite and I really hope to be able to return someday. Till next time, Manuel Antonio!

Accidental Day in Jaco!

We woke up in the morning all set to take a snorkeling trip to Tortuga Island. Gear all packed up and ready to go, we sat outside of our hotel sipping delicious Costa Rican coffee waiting for the tour to pick us up. 45 minutes and 3 cups of coffee later, we were still waiting. So we called the tour company to find out what was going on. Turns out, somehow they messed up and thought they were picking us up somewhere else, and by now, it was too late to do anything about it. So we missed our tour.

However, never ones to be discouraged by things going wrong, we decided to create our own beach adventure! We hired a driver for the day (not as expensive as it sounds….he was with us for over 10 hours, 5 of which were spent driving, and it only cost us $200. Win!!) and headed to Jaco, a town famous for its surfing and cool beach vibes. Our driver was super awesome… really friendly, played good music on the radio, and got us safely to Jaco, no problem. It was a really hot day, and we had been chatting in the back of the taxi about how tasty a refreshing beverage would be, and without us even having to ask, our driver took us to this amazing little roadside fruit stand that blended these incredible smoothies…

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And soon enough, we made it to Jaco!

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The water was amazing… it felt like swimming in bath water.

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A trip to a popular surf spot wouldn’t be complete without sitting and watching the surfers!

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The beach is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops, so before heading home, we grabbed a late lunch at a cute restaurant on the beach.

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This is their version of fish tacos… the struggle to eat it was very real, but it sure was tasty!

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Rum punch, fish tacos, warm water, and surfers… what more could a girl ask for?

Tabacon Hot Springs Resort

As part of the tour we booked to see Arenal National Park, we also got to visit Tabacon Hot Springs Resort! Due to all the geothermal activity, the area surrounding Arenal Volcano is filled with natural hot springs. My friends and I are drawn to hot springs like a moth to a flame, so this tour was seriously the coolest thing ever. Hiking around a volcano followed by soaking in hot springs? Perfection! There are many different hot spring resorts in the area, but we only visited Tabacon, which is supposedly one of the more luxurious resorts. Since I have no other point of reference, I can’t say whether or not that is actually true, but Tabacon is absolutely gorgeous, and had dozens and dozens of pools of varying temperatures. We were there for 3 hours, and were only able to enjoy a small fraction of what the resort had to offer.

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View of Arenal Volcano from the swim-up bar at the resort-

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Enjoying the pools…

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I love that this is a pool we could actually go in… I’m pretty sure this would never be a thing in CA. Gotta love foreign countries!!

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We had only been at the resort for maybe an hour when the rain started to pour. And pour. And pour. And then continued to pour for the rest of our time there. While this deterred many of the other guests at the resort, we figured, we are already in bathing suits and playing in pools- what’s a little more water?

This is how soggy my hair got after about 2 minutes of being in the rain…it was really raining a lot.

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And then the necessary “playing in the rain” pics-

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This tour to Tabacon Hot Springs Resort was so awesome, it even came with a fabulous buffet dinner!!

View from the restaurant overlooking the hot springs…it was a really awesome dining experience, eating while hearing the rain outside. Very cool.

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My delicious feast-

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After a very long and exhausting day, we hit the road again for the 3-hour drive back to San Jose. And my friends and I talked non-stop for all of it. ***Public Service Announcement: If you want to sleep on a bus ride, don’t sit near a group of females*** By the end of the drive, I’m pretty sure everyone near us knew more than they cared to about our love lives.

Our stay at Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Arenal Volcano only lasted a day, but I would definitely visit that area again someday. There was so much we didn’t get to see, but this tour provided a good sampling of what the area had to offer. My recommendation: if you are short on time or money, a 1-day tour like this is a great way to still get to see the Arenal/La Fortuna area, but if you can spare more days and have a bigger trip budget, it would be worth staying a night or two.

Slainte!!

Arenal Volcano National Park

When starting the search to find the must-see sights of Costa Rica, one destination shows up on every list: Arenal Volcano. This massive volcano erupted suddenly and unexpectedly in 1968, destroying a small town and killing nearly 100 people. From 1968-2011 Arenal continued to be active, with visible lava and bright sparks showing nightly, making it a popular tourist destination. Since then, the volcano has been quiet, but is still classified as active. And so when choosing how to spend our limited time in Costa Rica, we had to include a day trip to Arenal Volcano National Park!

Just like all of our tours, this one also started way too early. But it is roughly a 3-hour drive to Arenal from San Jose, a lot of which is on curvy mountain roads, so we had to get an early start! About an hour and a half into the drive, we made our first stop: the small village of Sarchi, famous for its handicrafts, most notably wood oxcarts.

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Free coffee samples while we shop!

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And of course we had to take a picture with this giant oxcart!

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Loaded up with lots of free coffee and a massive pile of souvenirs, we were off to Arenal! Now I don’t know how it is everywhere else, but in California I am used to buses driving slower than the regular cars, especially when taking sharp turns. This is not the case in Costa Rica. The bus whipped around the curves of the mountain roads at high speeds, tossing us around in the back of the bus like rag dolls. These pictures might look posed, but I assure you, we waited for the perfect turns to capture what it would look like if we didn’t actively try to hold ourselves in place. Our faces might be exaggerated though…

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Laughing and taking stupid pictures made the rest of the drive pass quickly, and before we knew it we were at the volcano! To get to the viewpoint we had to do a brief hike up some stairs. It was very easy, and took less than 5 minutes to reach our destination.

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The views were breathtaking!! The volcano itself was incredible, looking like every stereotypical volcano kids make in elementary school. It was amazing to know it was real though, and thinking about the power inside that thing was a little scary.

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Our guide kept wanting to take our picture everywhere, and liked instructing us on how to pose. This was one particularly awkward gem he came up with:

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It would’ve been super cool to have seen the volcano a few years ago when the lava was still visible, but even without it, it was still an amazing sight to see. Our tour was only halfway through though, and the second part is coming up in my next post! Stay tuned…

Ziplining in Costa Rica!

What trip to Costa Rica is complete without an adrenaline-rushing trip down a zipline? As one of my bucket list items, making this happen during our stay was an absolute necessity! We found a great tour through viator, and so with our stomachs full of gallo pinto, we set off on yet another adventure!

Our guides picked us up in the late morning, and drove us to the Sarapiqui River. We boarded a boat for a short river cruise that took us to the ranch where we would be ziplining.

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River Cruise

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Perk to taking a weekday tour during the off-season- we were the only ones on the tour. Gotta love getting a private tour for the cost of a group tour! Upon arriving at the ranch, ours guides suited us up in the zipline gear, and informed us we would be riding horses to get to the start of the zipline. Now, I am terrified of horseback riding (I don’t trust animals), but always a good sport and up for anything, I climbed on that horse!

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Turns out, I am still terrified of horseback riding. But hey, at least I gave it another chance!

After a quick safety and instructional briefing, we were ready to head up into the trees. Something they don’t ever tell you about ziplining (but I guess should be fairly obvious) is how many dang ladders there are to climb! It was hot, humid, and the ladders were ridiculously high. We were all exhausted after climbing the first one!

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Did I mention how high they were? Look how small we look on the ground compared to my sister climbing the ladder!

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The reward for making it to the top of these ladders was well worth it though.

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Weeeeee!!! Down the zipline I go!!

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This particular course was a series of 10 ziplines connected by brief rainforest hikes, hanging bridges, and MORE LADDERS.

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I think this sign is meant as a joke, but kind of for real. Ziplining is an incredible experience, but way more exhausting than we expected. So worth it though!!

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Seriously, if you ever get a chance, try ziplining. It was really easy to do (except those ladders…), and the guides are with you the entire time, making sure everyone stays safe. My recommendations: wear closed-toe shoes that stay on your feet well, clothes that dry easily when wet (cause it gets super sweaty under those harnesses with all that humidity and stuff), and if you have any trouble with ladders, maybe rethink taking a zipline excursion.

Tortuguero National Park

Since our time in Costa Rica was limited, we decided to make San Jose our home base for the week and book daily tours to see different parts of the country. We found a 1-day tour to Tortuguero National Park through Viator. Our guides picked us up at our hotel at the crack of dawn, and drove us to the boat docks. The park is only accessible by boat, so we set off on a river cruise through the rainforest! If any of you have ever been to Disneyland and rode the Jungle Cruise, I swear, it feels exactly the same.. Except real.

Some highlights of the cruise:

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Our guide let us sit on the front of the boat… that was pretty awesome.

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After about an hour and a half of cruising the river, we arrived at Tortuguero! Upon landing at the docks, we had to walk through Tortuguero village to get to the beach. The village was quaint, and filled with shops. I would’ve liked to spend some time there looking around, but alas, we were on a tight schedule.

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So on to the beach! Tortuguero National Park is located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country, and the weather and the water were absolutely beautiful. During certain times of the year, green sea turtles use this beach as a nesting ground (hence the name of the park) and the beach is off limits. But this was not that time of the year, so we were able to splash around in the ocean a bit. It really would’ve been cool to see the turtles though.

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After our fabulous (albeit brief) beach time, we hopped back on the boat and traveled to one of the many eco-lodges in the park. The lodge offered access to a crazy awesome hiking trail entirely on boardwalks and hanging bridges. This, for me, was probably the highlight of the park. We saw so many animals, and the hanging bridges were so fun to walk on!

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The lodge also served us a tasty buffet lunch, which was included in the price of the tour. Then it was back on the boat to begin our journey back to San Jose! Some pics from the ride home:

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I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who has a day to spare when traveling to San Jose! Even though we didn’t get to see the sea turtles, there was so much other wildlife, and the river cruise and rainforest hike were both delightful! It was definitely hot though, so be sure to pack lots of sunscreen, water, and a hat! Especially if you have a Celtic complexion like me haha.