My Costa Rican Travel Experience

November 11-18, 2022

By Trip Merchant Co-Founder, Ryan Mikucki
Date: January 2022
Why travel to Costa Rica?

Located between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America, Costa Rica is a democratic and peaceful nation, without a military since 1948. Focused on tourism, Ticos (a nickname for locals) are happily welcoming visitors to experience this country’s incredible natural beauty, indulge in adventure and make time for wellness and relaxation.

Costa Ricans or “ticos and ticas” are generous, kind and simple, always willing to lend a helping hand to tourists, this way of being contributes to make a trip to Costa Rica a unique experience.

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Costa Rica boasts a literacy rate of 96 per cent one of the highest in the world, and since 1896 has made education free and obligatory for all its citizens.

Costa Rica may be small in size, covering only 0.03 of the world’s surface, but is mighty in attracting visitors. This Central American country has four UNESCO World Heritage sites: Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, Cocos Island National Park, Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves and PreColombian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquis.

With 1,228 km of coastline, 1,016 km on the Pacific coast and 212 km on the Caribbean Sea Costa Rica also offers the ability to access beaches at Puntarenas only 90 minutes from San Jose. Coastlines are separated three hours by car or 45 minutes by air from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose.

With five per cent of the world’s biodiversity and 26 per cent of its territory protected for conservation, Costa Rica is divided in 11 conservation areas comprising National Parks, preserves, and biological corridors, etc. There are 29 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and eight biological reserves.

Costa Rica is an industry leader in sustainability, with its distinctive combination of unique geographical features, and this concept weaved in Costa Ricans’ DNA. With the goal to become a carbon-free country by 2050, every region in Costa Rica is committed to sustainable practices across all industries, adopted by all citizens and embraced by visitors. From local Costa Rican cuisine to artisan crafts to traditional customs and celebrations, sustainability is embedded deeply in the culture and traditions of Costa Rica.

Fun Facts about Costa Rica:
  • It’s one of the happiest countries in the world
  • There are over 500,000 species of wildlife
  • Of the 500,000 species, 900 of them are birds
  • Costa Rica is a paradise for hummingbirds
  • Gallo pinto is a breakfast staple
  • There are over 200 volcanic formations has many volcanoes including active ones
  • Costa Ricans have a high life expectancy
  • Adult literacy rate of Costa Rica is nearly 96% literacy
  • Costa Rica has some of the best healthcare in Latin America
  • Potable drinking water – Tap water in Costa Rica is generally clean and safe
  • They have a sanctuary that protects millions of turtles
  • 25% of the land is conservation
  • Costa Rica has successfully managed to curb deforestation
  • It’s nature’s playground – Costa Rica houses 5% of World’s Biodiversity
  • Pura Vida is more than just a phrase — it’s a lifestyle (Pura Vida, meaning “pure life”, is not only a common greeting, but also a state of mind. Pura Vida encapsulates the laidback, friendly and welcoming vibe of Costa Ricans)
  • Costa Rica does not have a standing army
My Experience

Costa Rica is one of my favourites. So much so, I have travelled to this incredible destination three times now and I know I will return many more times in the future – it never disappoints. It has beaches, volcanoes, wildlife, delicious food, friendly people, it’s eco-friendly, it’s safe, there are many adventure experiences (soft to extreme) to enjoy, and much more. Costa Rica is an extremely diverse country and there are numerous ways to experience it. My recent trip was an 8-day journey, and it was a trip hosted by the Costa Rican Tourism Board, in conjunction with other partners who hosted myself and nearly 50 other travel professionals. There were several itineraries offered, split up into small groups of 8-12 travellers. The itinerary I choose had more of an adventure element to it and the route we took showed us the highlights within a few beautiful regions that the country offers. Some of the key destinations I visited while I was in Costa Rica included, San José, Monteverde, Gulf of Nicoya (Puntarenas, Paquera, Tambor, Tortuga Island) and Herradura. In my opinion when going to Costa Rica you need at the very minimum 10 days and the best way to truly see Costa Rica in all its glory, is doing a tour throughout the country. Our itinerary was very busy and active. It was a condensed version of a tour that would normally be approximately 12 days, so that we could see as much as possible in a short period of time, and did we ever see a lot! Below in this blog you will see my detailed, day by day experience. I hope it inspires you to see this amazing destination and possibly to join us on our future Costa Rica Trip Merchant Journeys Group Departure planned for February 2023 (it will be a different itinerary with soft adventure-like experiences).

Costa Rica has been blessed with a huge diversity of natural resources that they have tried to keep through the many protected areas like National Parks, Biological reserves, wildlife refuges among many others. Also, there are many cultural and educational attractions will help you get to know, where the Costa Ricans come from and why they are well known for being a pacific and democratic country with very kind and smiling people. Pura Vida!

Firstly, I wanted to provide you with all the pre-departure details to learn what is required prior to arrival into Costa Rica:
  • My recommendation is to use this site, www.tripsguard.com, when planning and preparing for your future travels. It provides up to date entry requirements, health and safety protocols while in destination(s) and more. For the full, up to date, entry requirements for Costa Rica, please visit this link: https://www.visitcostarica.com/en/costa-rica/planning-your-trip/entry-requirements
  • Costa Rica has an online health form called “Health Pass” that you need to complete 72 hours in advance to your arrival. It is easy to fill out and takes 5-7 minutes. Once completed, it then provides you with your unique QR code for you to use when you arrive into Costa Rica (I kept a version on my phone and printed the QR code off as well, just in case). If you need to edit your health pass, you can go back into the system and modify accordingly prior to your departure.
  • In Canada at the airport, before flying to Costa Rica, you do need to show the QR code (they don’t scan the QR but the airline staff want to make sure you did in fact complete it or that could prevent your entry into the country).
  • While we were travelling in Costa Rica the vaccination rate was around 55%-60%. At this point of time, over 70% of the population is now fully vaccinated.
Day 1: Thursday, November 11th, 2021 – Arrived at Juan Santamaría International Airport
  • After taking a red-eye flight from Calgary to Toronto (Nov 10th) we then arrived in Toronto before 6am on the 11th. A couple hours later, we flew from Toronto with Air Canada and arrived at San Jose International airport (Juan Santamaria International Airport) in the early afternoon. It was an easy direct 5-hour flight.
  • I enjoy flying in and out of San Jose as it has the lush green mountains surrounding the city in the backdrop. Upon our arrival it was a little cloudy with the sun peaking at some points, with a rain shower in the afternoon (and early evening). There seems to be a misconception that the only time to travel to Costa Rica is between December to April for the dry season versus the wet season – which is really called the green season. Costa Rica is a country you can travel to all year round. In November, this is considered the tail end of the green season and to make it clear it only rains sporadically for a short portion of time, it is not constant monsoon-like rain, and the weather is still incredible throughout with sun shining. Costa Rica has micro climates so it does vary on where you are in the country. I’ve been to Costa Rica in February, July and November. Each time I travelled here the weather has been great. The “green season” can be one of the best times to travel to see the vibrant green colors of the country. The temperature was a nice 26 C today with the humidity.
  • Upon arrival at the airport, we were greeted with a longer than usual line up of about 2 hours to clear immigrations into the country. I wasn’t complaining – it was nice to see all the tourists. You can definitely feel the buzz of tourism coming back which is a huge part of their economy. As you wait in line you hear the nature sounds of Costa Rica through speakers (which was quite calming but also got you excited to start exploring the country).Generally speaking, between 12pm-3pm and 7pm-9pm many flights come into the country, another reason as to why it was extra busy this day.
  • After going through border control, it was time to collect luggage and transfer to our hotel, Hotel Grano de Oro, to stay for two nights. Unfortunately, I was the unlucky one as my luggage did not arrive. I made the best of it for three days until I received my luggage in Monteverde. I did do some light shopping for a few days to pick up the necessities that I was missing! Story to share shortly…
  • We were greeted by our incredible guide, Ronald, and our meticulous driver, Aidan. The small bus we used took no more than 20 passengers. Without traffic, it is about a 20–25-minute drive from the airport to the hotel. We did get our taste of San Jose traffic today; however, so it took us slightly longer. While you’re stopped at the lights in Costa Rica or in traffic you will have street vendors going by selling mangos, plantains, other food items, as well as various accessories/toys.
  • Our home for two nights was the Grano de Oro hotel, which was centrally located and only a short walking distance from the main thoroughfare into the heart of the city of San Jose. This hotel has been around for 30 years and Canadians own this hotel (they are from Saskatchewan). It is a boutique hotel with an old-world charm – really a unique character to the hotel that welcomes guests from around the world. It is definitely one of the better boutique hotels in the city to stay at. There are only 40 rooms. It has an excellent restaurant (been there for 15 years) where locals come to eat which is a testament to its quality food and service.
  • After being warmly greeted by the staff of the Grano de Oro, we had a light tour of the property and were given a welcome drink called a “Tico Sour” made with Guaro – typical alcoholic beverage in Costa Rica. We went into various rooms, the restaurant, and the common spaces on the terrace, which included two whirlpools. Throughout the hallways of the hotel, you will see framed photos sharing more about the timeline of the property over the years.
  • In the evening, because we were all starving at this point after our travel day, we then went to a restaurant in town called “Café Mundo” it is another great quality restaurant in the city – delicious food, and inexpensive. For an appetizer, full meal (pollo, or in English, chicken, with demi glaze and mushrooms, onion rings, rice, steamed vegetables, garlic bread), a couple drinks and a few other small items, it was around $20 USD. Tipping 10% tipping is standard in the country. Now completely full, it was time for a much-needed sleep to feel refreshed for our next day!
  • Just on a side note, Costa Rica takes COVID and the protocols, very seriously. In San Jose at least, you see everyone wearing a mask. Of course, at all the hotels and other tourist locations, the staff are wearing their mask throughout the country. When we were there the vaccine rate was heavily increasing and the cases were reducing, and masks needed to be used throughout when on public transportation, in hotels, restaurants and other commercial establishments. Prior to eating at a restaurant, you needed to make a reservation. It was recommended for wearing them outdoors (more so in San Jose), but it was optional and to use common sense if going into a crowded area. As we travelled, going in and out of the hotels, they had hand washing stations or hand sanitizer options. At some establishments they even had a hand sanitizer device that dispenses the sanitizer but also checks your temperature, which was quite innovative!
  • Other notes from the day:
    • Since 1961 Costa Rica has potable water – safe to eat salads, ice in drinks and brush teeth
    • Costa Rica has one of highest life expectancies in the Americas
    • In the Central Valley region is where 60% of the population of Costa Rica live (between San Jose and Alajuela)

Grano de Oro Hotel Description:

In Costa Rica, the term “Grano de Oro” is used to refer to the coffee bean, their “Grain of Gold”. The founders of this boutique hotel fell in love with the idea that such a small fruit could be so valuable.

Hotel Grano de Oro was started by a Canadian couple who frequented Costa Rica for vacation. They loved the natural beauty of the country and the people, and in particular the metropolitan city of San Jose. They found that San José was lacking an upscale boutique-style hotel, offering a unique, personalized service. With this in mind, the search for the perfect house to be renovated began. The original tropical Victorian home, was a private family residence belonging to the Pozuelo family, built at the turn of the 20th century.

The Hotel Grano de Oro opened its doors in December of 1991, with 21 guest rooms, a gift shop and a modest café. Quickly gaining recognition from local and international agencies for its unique personality and great service, the hotel became a landmark within the city. In December 1994, after acquiring another Pozuelo family home, behind the first, the number of guest rooms was increased to a total of 34 and a Jacuzzi terrace was added. The signature suite, The Vista de Oro was introduced.

The Restaurant also expanded with this renovation and began to take on its own identity with the hiring of a new French Chef, Francis Canal Bardot. Hand in hand with the owners, Francis worked on new dishes and menus bringing a new point of view to the traditional offerings that were so common in San Jose. Due to the need of the growing restaurant a decision was made to begin a 3rd expansion: the owners bought yet another property next door to the original home. In 2007 the completion of a beautiful building maintaining the original tropical Victorian architecture and style of the original Pozuelo house became the home of Restaurante Grano de Oro. The restaurant is one of a kind in the city offering an elegant indoor dining room, a beautiful inner courtyard, a handcrafted indoor/outdoor bar and an award-winning wine cellar.

The Hotel and Restaurante Grano de Oro and its staff continually focus on pleasing its customers and exceeding their expectations. The Hotel Grano de Oro is a member of two groups of boutique hotels: Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica and Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality Collection.

Website: https://www.hotelgranodeoro.com/

Day 2: Friday November 12th, 2021 – Meetings / Hacienda Alsacia (Starbucks Coffee Farm)
  • This morning we woke up to a sunny day, with blue skies. In the courtyard of the hotel restaurant, we had a typical Costa Rican breakfast (a la carte) for our group. This breakfast meal is called Gallo Pinto (the most common dish for breakfast is Gallo Pintowhich consists of rice mixed with black beans, served with natilla (sour cream), eggs (scrambled) and fried plantain. Costa Ricans usually drink a cup of coffee or fresh fruit juice (mango/orange) with it. It doesn’t necessarily look like much, but it is delicious.
  • We transferred from our hotel to the Hilton San Jose hotel for a fairly full day of meetings with in-destination partners throughout Costa Rica – from tour operators, hotels to coffee businesses and more. Our meetings started at 8am and went until 2pm. We then departed the hotel around 2:30pm and made our way to Hacienda Alsacia which is the only designated Starbucks farm in the country of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is one of the worlds top producers of coffee, more specially, of Arabica coffee.
  • To put it lightly, traffic is constant in San Jose. There is a lot of construction taking place to improve their highway(s), roads in general, and the building of a new bridge/city perimeter circle route. I always refer to San Jose as the gateway to your Costa Rican adventure. In my opinion, although San Jose is not the most beautiful city in the world or world renown, it does have its sections or sites that are attractive (such as National Museum of Costa Rica, Gold Museum, and the National Theatre of Costa Rica). Construction is ongoing, let alone 3 million people of the 5 million Costa Ricans live in and around San Jose in the Central Valley region!
  • This day there was some entertainment along the way for me as I still had no luggage, but I needed some necessities. We stopped in a small town at a local convenience store to get a few items for me, and next thing I know I had my tour guide and staff in the clothing section searching for my underwear size – I wish I had a photo. You had to be there…it was a pretty funny experience! Very accommodating people and always happy to extend their help…even for underwear.
  • Here in Costa Rica, at the foot of a spectacular volcano, something magical is taking place — something much bigger than coffee. Hacienda Alsacia is the first and only coffee farm as part of Starbucks. Starbucks came here to work the soil, learn from the land and channel their passion into positive change. Now they invite you to rediscover coffee through the human experience. Once you visit, you too have ownership in its future – Arabica beans were first introduced to Costa Rica in the 1700s. Today coffee is an important part of the country’s economy. To help ensure the future of coffee, the mission of Hacienda Alsacia is clear: Create best practices to make growing coffee more profitable for small-scale farms; develop the next generation of disease-resistant, high-quality coffee; and share information and resources freely with farmers around the world.
  • At the Alsacia Farm, we took in the great views of the lush countryside and viewed a waterfall all from the Starbucks coffee tasting area. With our expert guide, we had a short tour through the coffee fields and learned about the picking to the roasting of the coffee, before enjoying a small cup for ourselves to enjoy. I definitely brought back too much coffee…
  • This night, I headed into downtown San Jose and found a restaurant to not only eat dinner, but to watch Canada vs Costa Rica play a World Cup Qualifying soccer match. I witnessed Canada take the big victory! Costa Rican’s were still friendly towards me despite their loss. I enjoyed a hearty typical casado meal and a couple beverages for less than $15 USD.
  • Other notes from the day:
    • Pineapple #1 exported product
    • Public schools are free, and they teach English at schools
    • What the Costa Rica flag represents? Two blue oceans, white peace, red bloodshed from past war(s)
    • 1 million Nicaraguan immigrants out of the 5 million people live in Costa Rica
Day 3: Saturday November 13th, 2021 – San Jose-Grecia-Sarchi-Monteverde
  • Today we departed in the morning towards Monteverde which boasts a unique biodiverse ecosystem. For nearly 50 years, the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve has been passionately protecting one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth. If you can believe it, only 1% of all remaining forests on the planet are classified as cloud forests.
  • Monteverde is approximately a 3-3.5 hours drive from San Jose. However, along the journey to Monteverde you are typically making stops to visit small Costa Rica towns or to take photos of the incredible landscape, and active wildlife.
  • The scenery along the way was stunning as we travelled through the verdant countryside. Our first stop today, we visited the small main town square of Grecia. Grecia is a small farming community, which is the jewel on the Central Valley of Costa Rica. It was once voted as the “Cleanest Town in Latin America”. After taking our photos, we hopped back on our mini coach for a short 20-minute drive to Sarchi. Sarchi is the local artisan capital of Costa Rica and it is best known for the colorful oxcarts that are handcrafted here and sold throughout the country. We arrived at Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro one of the largest souvenir shops in the town and where they make oxcarts. It is impressive to learn about the efforts required in building an oxcart to the time it takes to paint it. Oxcarts are a national symbol of Costa Rica. After taking a tour with a local guide, learning what is involved in building an oxcart, we then visited the Central Park of Sarchi which is in front of the town’s church. Within this Central Park square it housed the largest oxcart in the world putting it into the Guinness Book of Records – built in 2006.
  • The sight of brightly colored Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro in Sarchi immediately brings a smile to your face. See beautiful oxcarts, chairs, tables, and other wooden products made with passion and skill as you wander the site. Intricate, boldly colored ornaments capture the true spirit of the Caribbean, and the friendly craftsmen will happily answer your questions about their works. The ox carts made onsite are still manufactured using traditional techniques, keeping the same look they had when people used their distinctive designs to identify one another as they crossed paths. The souvenir shop offers a variety of equally beautiful wooden artworks, but of a more convenient size to carry. http://souvenirscostarica.com/en/
  • On route to Monteverde, we stopped for lunch al El Jardin San Ramon for a tasty lunch. The property itself has nicely sculpted gardens and livestock to visit.
  • I absolutely love the thrill of driving in Costa Rica. Driving through Costa Rica is an adventure on its own and in some cases, a wildlife safari experience! As we drove through the countryside on the two-way highway, we would see various birds fluttering around. A toucan zoomed across the road, black vultures were in the air, as well as turkey vultures. We even stopped to see a pack of monkeys playing in the trees. Aside from the lushness, we saw rolling hills and mountains, we meandered along the roads with spectacular views on the left- and right-hand side. We would see cows grazing on the steep slopes of the hills. We also had a nice viewpoint stop to see the Gulf of Nicoya in the distance – a location we ended up travelling across a couple days from today!
  • As mentioned, this is my third visit to Costa Rica, one time was nearly 13 years ago, another was 6 years ago and then today. I have to say the roads have heavily improved; from gravel to paved in many sections of the country and the distance to go from one place to another has drastically changed. However, in some sections of the country they are continuing the road construction, and this will continue to help with the transportation and access to certain areas throughout the country.
  • Once we arrived at our hotel in Monteverde, El Establo Hotel, we immediately checked into our spacious, high ceiling rooms. El Establo is one of the top hotels in the area. Our rooms were on the second floor with a small balcony to look out at the sunsets over the Gulf of Nicoya, but also to spot wildlife. Within minutes of arriving to our rooms, there was an inquisitive coati (relative of the racoon) exploring the property grounds right in front of us! The Hotel El Establo is the largest and to reiterate, perhaps the most luxurious hotel in all of Monteverde. Its location, within the Cerro Plano area, is a convenient place to begin your exploration of all of the adventure, excitement, and beauty that Monteverde has to offer. https://elestablo.com/
  • As the sky turned dark, around 5pm, the sounds of the wildlife and the nocturnal animals are evident. This is part of the Costa Rican experience. We heard a pack of coyotes howling away! Yes, coyotes are even in Costa Rica.
  • This evening, we ate a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant and luckily for me, my luggage arrived for me to be in fresh clothes again. We all celebrated the arrival of my luggage this evening. I no longer had to borrow my tour guides shirt/shorts!
  • On a side note, if you are wondering about bugs. Although they are present in the country, we were not bothered by them (little to no mosquitos during our trip).
  • Other notes from the day:
    • Eight Indigenous Peoples live in Costa Rica: the Huetar, Maleku, Bribri, Cabécar, Brunka, Ngäbe, Bröran and Chorotega, constituting 2.4% of the total population
Day 4: Sunday November 14th, 2021 – Monteverde Extremo / Monteverde Cloud Forest – Adventure Day!
  • Today was a thrilling, adrenaline packed day! If you like extreme adventure activities, you don’t go to Costa Rica without trying their zipline experience. I can appreciate this is not for everyone. However, you do see people of all ages enjoying the ride. Monteverde is where ziplining comes from. Since starting in Monteverde, the rest of the world has caught on. In Monteverde they have the longest zipline course circuit in Costa Rica (more specifically where we went – Monteverde Extremo). Monteverde is more elevated, so the temperature was a little cooler in the evening, but still very comfortable (anything is better than winter weather in Canada, right??). It was beyond green everywhere you looked in this area and you just knew it was teeming with wildlife – especially as you go into the Monteverde Cloud Forest, which has a unique ecosystem, unlike other ecosystems and locations in the world. Animals that can be frequently spotted, in which we saw a wide variety of included, scarlet macaws, monkeys, tayers, quetzal, coyotes, agouti, coati, sloths and much more!
  • At 8:30am the fun started. We made our way to the Monteverde Extremo and it was an exhilarating morning. This zipline tour takes 2 hours, and it features the longest zipline course in the country (4,330 meters or 2.7 miles in total), with 16 ziplines (including two superman ziplines -one of which goes through a tunnel). I’ve done ziplining a few times now in Costa Rica, in Arenal, but this was my first time in Monteverde. You definitely have to be in decent physical condition to hike up to the different cables stands, and if you can do it, it is well worth it. You will catch yourself sounding like Tarzan as you zipline through the treetops.
  • After the exciting morning, we had lunch at the restaurant of the park where we enjoyed beans, rice, salad and vegetables with pork (other options were available like chicken/beef). As we were about to depart, there were two colorful scarlet macaws hanging in the tress above us shouting “hola”!
  • Following this, we had a site inspection at the Poco a Poco hotel. A nice boutique hotel, with great rooms, a restaurant, and pool area. This hotel is steps away from the heart of the Monteverde town. This is another great hotel to consider when staying in this area. https://www.hotelpocoapoco.com/
  • Early to mid-afternoon we spent time at the Monteverde Biological Reserve. In Monteverde cloud forest they had 3 main trails to take – one for hanging bridges, one is a more active/longer hike and the other, which we choose, was an easier walk to a waterfall. The trees surrounding us were massive! As we went through the reserve, we were in search of sloths and the elusive quetzal bird, which are an endangered specie and considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Our timing was off, as less than 30 minutes before us someone spotted a quetzal which are not easy to spot. We concluded out short hike experience and headed back to the hotel to relax before dinner at the Poco a Poco Hotel with a nice bonfire to finish off the evening.
  • Throughout our travels we noticed there were tourists from Canada, USA, Poland, Germany, and Spain. We ran into a couple tour bus groups in different areas that we travelled. It was nice to see more tourists and the Costa Ricans were excited to see the demand coming back. Restaurants are getting busier and plenty of hotels have a busy season ahead with high occupancy at the properties (December to March).
  • We did not have time to head into the Monteverde town, but the Treehouse bar seems to be a popular spot.
  • Other notes from the day:
    • In Costa Rica there are 7 provinces and we travelled through several. Puntarenas, San Jose were the main ones we were in and briefly in Alajuela.
    • Hard to believe that Costa Rica accounts for 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Costa Rica covers only 0.03% of the globe’s surface and it jam packed with incredible diversity.
    • Costa Rica has more bird species (900 total), than Europe, Africa, and USA/Canada combined. You become a birdwatcher in this country – all shapes, sizes and colours of birds.
    • Many animals are nocturnal. In Monteverde and various other areas in the country you can do night walk tour to see the animals alive at night.
    • There are many waterfalls throughout the country.

Monteverde Extremo:

Has one of the most beautiful views of the area and the country in terms of rainforest refers, you will see this during the tour with our extreme activities; mixing the majesty of these along with the extreme adventure of reaching the highest altitudes and admire the rich natural beauty of the forest and its treasures. You will feel excitement and emotions when you enjoy bungee jumping, extreme tarzan, the giant rappel and superman and fantastic distances of each of the cables, the longest 3400 feet long and 600 feet high. When it comes up to adrenaline, height, dizziness and extreme emotions there are those who are brave that will come and join; on the other hand, there is those who are less convinced that they can try something different; and we can never miss these who are friends of the brave ones and go almost forced. True?? Well, no matter which category you are, the important thing is that at the end of the day nothing is more enjoyable than the famous “adventure tourism”, which is always an ideal way to escape the routine and feel alive.

Website: https://www.monteverdeextremo.com/

Day 5: Monday November 15th, 2021 – Monteverde-Puntarenas-Gulf of Nicoya Ferry-Isla Chiquita
  • After breakfast, we departed from our memorable experience at the El Establo hotel in Monteverde and headed towards Puntarenas, to board our ferry ride which travels across the Gulf of Nicoya (to Paquera). The drive from Monteverde to Puntarenas was about 1.5-2 hours through the windy hilly roads outside of Monteverde before making it to the major highway to increase our speed. The fastest speeds on the roads within Costa Rica are typically, on average, about 50-70km per hour. This does depend on where you are – whether you are on the two-way roads, on roads with twists and turns in it or if you are stuck behind a large truck as it tries to get up the incline in the road! The Pan-American highway is much faster, where you can increase your speed to up to 100 km. As mentioned, they are constantly working on the roads in Costa Rica and in a couple years they are hoping to make the major highway four lanes as opposed to two lanes.
  • Puntarenas is the capital of the province of Puntarenas. Puntarenas means sandy point and this is the main port city where ferries and cruises ships go in and out of. We arrived in Puntarenas and the climate had changed dramatically from Monteverde. Today got up to 33 degrees Celsius as we were at sea level and no longer at the higher elevation. It is under a 1.5-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquera. The ferry experience would be comparable to the BC ferry system, where vehicles come on board, they have a couple canteens onboard – located on the open-air top deck and the main level for food and drinks. The maximum number of passengers onboard is 200. It was an easy and smooth ride, very scenic with islands and the coastline. We were keeping our eyes peeled to see dolphins and whales, with no luck but it is common to see them especially during certain times of the year. The prime time to see the whales in this area is between June and September, although there are other months and locations along the coastline of Costa Rica where whales can be spotted throughout the year.
  • Once we arrived in Paquera, we disembarked the ferry, waited for our small bus to drive off the ferry, then headed on a 1-hour drive to Tambor. We were hosted by the Belgian owner of a spectacular boutique hotel & villas property where we took a tour of the grounds and the various room options located throughout. This hotel is called Tango Mar – see this link to learn more and dream of vacationing here – excellent property: https://tangomar.com/. We enjoyed lunch at the beach/poolside restaurant and were greeted by a family of white faced monkeys waiting to eat any leftovers! They were quite fearless.
  • We then drove back towards Paquera and from there we diverted down a side road for 10 minutes to board a short 5-minute board ride to our island hotel, the first and only island hotel in Costa Rica – Isla Chiquita Glamping Hotel! The focus of Isla Chiquita (the island) is to rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit as you forge a meaningful connection to nature at Isla Chiquita Glamping Hotel. Perched on the tiny island of Isla Jesusita in Costa Rica’s picturesque Gulf of Nicoya. Celebrate the island’s artisanal fishing heritage with a delicious seafood meal or sip a drink as you survey the beauty that envelops you. Embark on an adventure by land or sea, bioluminescence expeditions, birdwatching, forest bathing hikes, snorkeling excursions and island hopping are among the engaging experiences offered. Upon returning to the hotel, relax in their tropical lounging gardens or soothe tired muscles with a massage on their wellness deck. The Isla Chiquita hotel was built in April 2017 (5 years old) and was built in 6 months. This hotel promotes nature, adventure and island life.
  • The sun was setting when we arrived and from this hotel you do enjoy some amazing sunsets over the Gulf of Nicoya and behind the mountains. Upon arrival by boat, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who provided a quick orientation of the property, along with a welcome drink. We were then taken to our rooms, or should I say, luxury (glamping) tents, which were fully equipped like a high-quality hotel room would be.
  • The property has 18 tent suites and there were three levels of tents – Tent Suite, Premium Tent and Master Sunset Suite. See here for each option: https://www.islachiquitacostarica.com/glamping-tents
  • I was lucky, as I ended up with a Premium tent, which came with a stunning ocean view and even the deck has a plunge pool to dip into. The Premium Tents and the Master Sunset Suite were located higher up so it did require more mobility by walking uphill to you tent and downhill to get back to the main lobby area. They did have a golf cart available to transport guests, if necessary.
  • Don’t get me started on our tent rooms! A true luxury tent experience. In my tent was a large comfortable bed, a small couch in one corner of the room, a mini bar, a safety deposit box, closet area, charging stations were readily available in the rooms, there were fans inside the tent to provide some cool air, there was a private shower, bathroom and sink area. You could even drink water from the tap. When locking your tent you pull the zipper down and use a carabiner to secure it shut, just in case no racoon or other animal tries to get into the room where you’re not around! The Wi-Fi on this island, anywhere you were, was exceptional. It was actually better than anywhere else we were throughout this trip itinerary. This hotel and the tents you stay in are truly magical and you do not want to leave. The service at the hotel was great, and the restaurant food presentation, to the taste, was 10 out of 10.

  • Other notes from the day:
    • Some parts of Costa Rica very similar to Hawaii
    • The ferry ride cost was only $5-$10 USD
    • Various ways to experience the country from destinations, regions, style and activity level
    • If you want to skip the longer drive from Liberia or San Jose to this Puntarenas, there is an airstrip in Tambor to fly into (20 min from San Jose) rather than the ferry
    • Guides in Costa Rica are top notch – tourism is so important to their economy and they are well educated. Our guide was the best guide I’ve had in all my travellers – from knowledge, courtesy, communication, professionalism and even humor.
    • Termite nests – you’ll see plenty of these in the trees. Armadillos can’t climb trees but like the termites when on the ground.
    • Macaw birds have a mate for life and if one dies they will never mate again – true romantics
    • Common desserts in Costa Rica: ice cream (dame Blanche), caramel flan, cheesecake
Day 6: Tuesday November 16th, 2021 – Isla Chiquita-Boating/Snorkelling Excursion (Tortuga Island)
  • What’s that noise??? Usually, I don’t like unexpected wake up calls early in the morning, but this wake-up call is unlike most wake-up calls and I would be fine with it being my routine every morning. Howler monkeys! Have you ever heard a howler monkey roar? The sound of a howler monkey sounds like a gorilla beating its chest in the distance, in Congo. As alluded to previously, you feel like you’re on a safari in Costa Rica spotting the wildlife and at this hotel especially, as you are in this luxury tent in the hilltop, tucked in the lush green forest. This morning, a family of howler monkeys decided to be in the trees right in front of my tent. The sounds of these howler monkeys got louder and louder as they got closer and closer towards my tent. It was awesome! I believe it was 5am and following that, I had dopamine flowing in my system – all day.
  • In the morning, we had our PCR test which is to be completed 72 hours prior to arrival into Canada. It cost $155 USD and it was an easy process. Typically, in Costa Rica the PCR is around $130 USD but ours was more because the company had to come to the island to conduct our tests. We received our results later that evening and we all tested negative – they sent an email confirmation in which we could show at the airport.
  • After an interesting start with the monkeys, today was going to be a day on the water as we went on a 3-hour boating excursion. Usually, it is a 5+ hour boat excursion, but we did a slightly shorter version. On this boat cruise we explored deeper into the Gulf of Nicoya seeing the coastline and the various islands and rock formations. We saw Spider Monkey Island, as the locals call it. Unfortunately, we did not see the monkeys, but apparently they are constantly jumping around in the tree tops. As an FYI, there are 4 types of monkeys in Costa Rica: Capuchin (white-faced) monkeys, Spider monkeys, Howler monkeys and Squirrel monkeys. We saw 2 of them throughout our travels in Costa Rica. Along our boat right we saw plenty of active fish jumping out of the water, such as large tuna, and we even saw a huge green turtle poking it’s head out of the surface of the water! From Isla Chiquita to Tortuga Island it was about a 20-30 minute boat ride.
  • We visited Tortuga Island, one of the most beautiful beach islands in Costa Rica they say, which I believe, as the water was turquoise blue with an inviting white sand beach to relax on. We anchored in the bay area and snorkelled for nearly an hour seeing the vast marine life.
  • When we returned to the hotel, we had time to relax and in the afternoon. A guided kayak experience with one of the hotel’s staff members to go around the island was provided this afternoon. This is something the hotel offers as part of your stay. It was a hot day (over 30 degrees Celsius) so you needed to be prepared for this with sunscreen and a hat. As the nighttime fell, we participated in a bioluminescence tour around the island to see this “spectacle”, interesting and somewhat profound activity. Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Bioluminescent creatures are found throughout marine habitats, from the ocean surface to the deep seafloor. Essentially the plankton eat the algae, and it causes a chemical reaction, hence the glow of bioluminescent. The moon was bright tonight so it was not as dark as you generally would like to have it when searching for the bioluminescent and we did not see the glow in full, but we saw some of the activity which was really interesting (sorry, no photos to show on it).
Day 7: Wednesday, November 17th, 2021 – Isla Chiquita-Puntarenas-Tarcoles-Herradura
  • Today we sadly checked out of our island paradise glamping hotel. We enjoyed breakfast as we did each day, took our small boat ride from the island to the mainland (again 5 minutes or less). We then took our bus for a 10-minute drive to the port of Paquera to embark on our ferry ride back to Puntarenas. This ferry ride seemed a bit shorter as there were less travellers today, so we arrived about 15 minutes quicker than the previous ferry ride we took to get across the Gulf of Nicoya. Just as a side note and I shared earlier on in this blog, for those that like to cruise, the main ports for the cruise ships (embarking/disembarking) are Puntarenas, and another one is Caldera (less than 30 minutes away from Puntarenas).
  • Once we disembarked the ferry, we made our way towards Herradura (Playa Herradura). We made a brief stop to do a short site inspection, along with a lunch at the Fiesta Resort which is a decent hotel option to consider staying at if you’d like to be on the beach in the Central Pacific region. The hotel at this time was full of Costa Rican guests/travellers from other Latin American countries.
  • The road between Puntarenas to Herradura or Jaco, even to San Jose from Puntarenas is a nice, paved road. From Puntarenas to San Jose, it is about a 1.5 hour drive.
  • Today was a more humid day due to a rain that occurred overnight. But the temperature was still at 30+ C.
  • After lunch we drove 1 hour along the coastline to Tarcoles. Tarcoles is a quiet little Costa Rican town and the main attraction here is the Tarcoles River to see the many crocodiles, and bird life. The Tárcoles River, also called the Grande de Tárcoles River or the Río Grande de Tarcoles. This 1.5 hour experience in Tarcoles was exhilarating…We drove our small bus towards the Tarcoles river to board our small covered boat to start our journey and river safari (typically you take a tractor ride to the river, but we arrived later in the day so we were given access to use our bus instead). We saw nearly 15+ crocodiles! We were up close to many large crocodiles. We saw one that was 5.5 meters – 12 feet. Crocs are very territorial hence the many battle scars you see on them. We even saw a crocodile capture a bird on the side of the banks.. There is a bridge that you can walk on to get a bird’s eye view of the many crocodiles on each side. Pretty spectacular!
  • The crocodiles stick to the rivers, however at the mouth of the ocean, connecting with the river, there is brackish water where the crocodiles will be as well, as it goes into the Pacific Ocean. We cruised through the main river, then into the mangroves. The bird life was abundant as well. We saw herrons, hawks, yellow crowns and we even saw close to 15-20 macaws! They tend to fly in twos all the time – very colorful birds. It was a bit cloudy today, but I felt it really set the mood perfectly for the experience we had. It rained lightly as we cruised along, and we even appreciated the sun starting to slowly set in the distance, as well as the mountain scenery in the backdrop. I was like a little kid in a candy shop on this trip experience! I love wildlife safari adventures and I couldn’t stop taking photos as we searched for the wildlife.
  • From Tarcoles we drove to the Marriott Los Sueños Resort Marriott, which was only about 20 minutes away. Upon arrival to the hotel, it turned pitch black. We then had a delicious, hosted dinner from the General Manager and Sales Director of the hotel, before we had some much-needed sleep to conclude our exciting, jam packed adventure through Costa Rica.
  • Other notes from the day:
    • There are white, volcanic black sand beaches and brownish/red sand beaches – due to the sediment
    • Lots of fish activity in the Gulf of Nicoya and surrounding the Isla Chiquita – puffer fish, needle fish, sardines, sting rays

Los Sueños Resort and Marina is your premier luxury residential destination community. Discover the beauty of Los Sueños for yourself, whether vacationing at our onsite Marriott Hotel or staying in one of the gorgeous villas or condominiums There is a Costa Rica of dreams amid the rainforest canopies of the Green Coast. Natural beauty, endless comfort and adventurous opportunities combine to create a piece of paradise at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. Our hotel grants easy access to local experiences including fishing and hiking through Carara National Park. Enjoy the intimacy of our Swim Up room´s adults only pool and tee up at our on-site golf club. Our resort offers La Iguana Experience tour to commune with nature. Find time to retreat to our Spa or enjoy our hotel rooms featuring plush bedding. Our accommodations feature breathtaking views and hammocks for island-style comfort. When it’s time to refuel, satisfy your cravings at one of our restaurants.

Looking to stay active? Attend our workout classes and take a dip in our outdoor pools. A welcoming retreat, rich with a peace-loving culture, where people exude the enduring warmth of Pura Vida. Experience exhilaration and relaxation at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. All it takes is one visit and you will fall in love. You may want to make Los Sueños your home or you home away from home.

Day 8: Thursday, November 18th, 2021 – Depart back to Canada
  • This morning we had a hearty breakfast to start our travel day back home. You name the breakfast food and they had it! It was an assisted buffet option when the staff put food onto your plate. Lots of fruit and pastries. After breakfast we had a light tour of the Los Sueños Resort. We took golf carts through their golf course in search of a sloth. We did not find the sloths which are typically on this property eating the Guanacaste tree leaves, but instead we monkeys and we even saw trees full of iguanas as they ate the leaves. The Hacienda Los Suenos Marriott hotel is a unique property in the Herradura area (Playa Herradura) and it is next to the Carara National park and marina. The property itself has 201 rooms and has been built in a Hacienda style property. We left the hotel to make our way to the San Jose International airport – it took us approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. We said out goodbye’s to our incredible guide Ronald and bus driver Aidan and thanked them for an incredible journey through their amazing country. Pura vida!
  • Once we were at the airport, we had to show our ArriveCAN app on your phone at the check in counter. They also request to see proof of your negative PCR test. *The ArriveCan app approximately 10 min to complete (should be completed within 72 hours of departure). You upload or take a picture of your vaccination proof and complete health related questions.
  • Upon arrival into Canada, we went through the regular customs process. The process as it relates to the ArriveCAN app and the negative PCR test you have to show proof of this. For some reason I did not have to. On a past trip in October I had to show all this documentation and had a random PCR test as well.
  • The flights were super easy based on duration and connection times. The plane feels very safe as cleanliness and sanitation are the main focus. You wear your mask, eat and drink when it’s time, then put the face mask back on. The overnight red eye to Toronto was fine and had plenty of time before the next flight. A post night might be best in Toronto or may be required depending on the day of travel.
Last Comments:
  • After travelling internationally now 3 times in the last 6 months, each country has different protocols and conditions. Each time I travelled the countries were on an increase of the vaccine and decrease in cases. Although, I know as of late there have been cases related to the variant, but it has seemed to peak in many areas and cases of mild (generally speaking). When travelling each time, there were more cases in our own city compared to the entire country of some of the destinations I travelled to and I felt safer there in a sense. It feels amazing to travel again and to connect with the countries and the people – we’re all in this together.
  • We had incredible weather throughout – aside from some brief rain at the start in San Jose, the last 24 hours was a bit more rain and clouds – considering this weather and we are at the very tail end of the rainy season before December’s dry season kicks in. Guanacaste will be dry and less green. South Pacific coast it will be dry season but still green because of the rainforest climate.
  • Other tips: Things to bring with you to Costa Rica include mosquito repellent, long trousers, shorts, sun block, raincoat and sun visor, bathing suit, tennis shoes, sandals, clothes according to the weather and good shoes for tours, preferred no sandals for these activities.
  • There are many ways to see Costa Rica (types or styles of trips):
    • Independent – Private/Tailor made
    • Guided Tours
    • All-inclusive
    • Adventure & Active
    • Bird Watching
    • Nature / Wildlife
    • Wellness Travel
    • Ocean Cruises

*Trip Merchant can help arrange any type of trip that you would like to Costa Rica – whether customized for individuals (private / tailor made) or as part of a group. Stay tuned as we plan to release a Costa Rica group departure in February, for a group trip in February 2023!

To watch our recorded online presentation on this Costa Rican experience and more about Costa Rica as a whole, click HERE. Type in this passcode (exactly as shown): costarica#1

Thank you to our partners who coordinated an incredible experience throughout Costa Rica included the following:

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) / Costa Rica Tourism Board developed a Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program for local tourism companies in 1997. First adopted within the hotel industry, tourism companies who focus on environmental preservation and local community can apply for the CST designation. *Further details as a reference, see the end of the blog.


The Costa Rican Tourism Board (Spanish: Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) is the government agency responsible for promoting sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. *Further details as a reference, see the end of the blog.

Grupo Proimagen Futuropa (promoting Costa Rica worldwide since 1994)


The Pro Imagen Costa Rica Group seeks to create, improve, and strengthen Costa Rica’s image as a tourist destination through joint state-private enterprise promotional and public relation efforts in the different potential markets. The Group’s efforts are made jointly, not individually, as coordinated efforts, which is the best reflection of the growing need in tourism to take urgent measures. *Further details as a reference, see the end of the blog.

Air Canada

Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. transborder market and in the international market to and from Canada. In 2019, Air Canada, together with its Air Canada Express regional partners, carried over 51 million passengers, offering direct passenger service to nearly 220 destinations on six continents. Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance™, providing the world’s most comprehensive air transportation network. *Further details as a reference regarding Air Canada CleanCare+, see the end of the blog.


Federally incorporated in Canada in May 2002, VoX International Inc. quickly became a leader in providing a wide range of sales and marketing solutions for all facets of the travel and tourism sectors. By providing personal, innovative and results-driven solutions in a timely and cost-efficient manner, VoX now sets the standard within the marketplace. For more information, please visit: voxinternational.com.

Thank you,
Trip Merchant

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