Let’s go to Costa Rica. That’s how my 2 day trip began in April of 2016. That was said on a Saturday, and I was on a plane for San Jose, Costa Rica that Monday night.
The roundtrip flight was 8,600 Southwest points and $74 for international taxes and fees.
I took with me no prior knowledge of the country, no Spanish speaking skills and no plans of where to stay or what to do. Just my backpack with 2 days worth of clothes and $100 USD.
I knew I wanted to at least see a volcano or check out Jacó or Hermosa beach, but I didn’t research how to do those things until after I arrived.
En route to the HOU airport I called my bank to let them know I will be overseas so my credit cards will work. I was ready to let my basic instincts lead me around a foreign country once again, and see how I end up after a couple days in Costa Rica. This trip happened just over a month after my 22 day country hopping journey.
Using airport wifi in the US I logged into Hostelworld.com, located a hostel in San Jose and booked 1 night. A place called Hostel Pangea. I planned to book the following 2 nights as they came.
So let’s review. I booked this flight just 2 days ahead, no Spanish knowledge, 1 night of accommodation, $100 USD, 1 backpack, passport.
During the couple days I kept an ongoing write up of my time from take off to return flight:
Booked for April 18-21 Monday thru Thursday. My Southwest 737 plane took off at 8:05pm. Set to touch the ground at 11pm scratches Monday to do anything. Still, that gives me all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday to either kick back at Jaco beach, or lock in a couple expeditions and explore San Jose. 30 kilometers to the north, the Braulio Carillo National park is filled with waterfalls and 30 kilometers west puts me in Irazu Volcano National Park. Like I said, I haven’t done any pre-research on this country, and the last time I went to a country last minute I had a blast. READ ABOUT MY SPONTANEOUS TRIP TO PORTUGAL HERE.
Monday night: I got in a bit early at 10:40pm and found my pre-booked ride from the hostel waiting for me (the hostel included pickup in the booking). 30 minutes into San Jose in the van then I arrived around 11:30pm. I got the key to my 8 person dorm room and clanked around settling in at midnight, trying to not wake up most of my roommates. I powered through an ice cold shower then put my head down around 1am. I laid down filled with that excitement and anticipation, ready to sleep just so I could wake up to explore. I had 2 days ahead of me, I can do anything I want for the next 48 hours.
Tuesday: Woke at 6:30am waiting for breakfast to be put out. Up from the excitement rather than an alarm, feels good. I walked out to the common area, where I am the only one besides the hostel night shift staff. The same girl that checked me in the night before was still on her overnight shift.
One thing I like about staying in hostels is the staff. If you like to travel without a planned itinerary, use the knowledge of the local hostel staff. I have relied on them countless times to help me plan out my day. They’re usually young and have adventurous personalities, so they tend to have recommendations relating to what I’ll want. Always ask them questions on where to go and what to do in the area.
While waiting for breakfast I chatted with her.
She told me there is nothing too great to see in San Jose, so instead take a bus to Jaco. There they have the beach and more things to do. She gave me instructions on the bus system and location. I ate some breakfast, met some other travelers, and off I went.
Hopped into an Uber at 8:15am using the hostel wifi, and headed to the San Jose bus terminal. Used the bank at the station to pull out “Colones”, the Costa Rican currency. Bought the 9am bus ticket to Jaco at 8:50am and just barely made it on time to board.
2.5 hours later I was dropped off at an unclear and unmarked bus stop in Jaco, but as I saw everyone else getting off I figured it was the right place. Walked the side streets to find some food, set my pack down and found an English speaking local. I ordered a burger and drink, and when the check came it was still cheaper than a fast food order in the US. Used the restaurants wifi to find and book a hostel 4 minutes away by foot called “Beds on Bohio”, then grabbed my pack and strolled the street. Somehow found the hostel and checked in, then I looked up to find my place is 200 feet from Jaco beach. Dropped my bag then headed over to the sand.
Jaco sure had some great waves that day, and there were a ton of surfers out as the day went on. The waves were rolling in smooth like those long rounded speed bumps, keeping shape, not closing out like the those Atlantic waves do. Jumped in the water and it was warm. It didn’t take long to spot a bright red beach tent where a guy was renting out surfboards. Body surfed back onto shore, made some negotiations and paid 5000 colones for 2 hours on a 7 foot board. At this time, April 2016 the exchange rate was 534 colones=$1, so I paid about $10.
A light stretch, little wax, paddled out for the first time in at least 3 years. I was surprised at how easy these waves were to ride, Didn’t take long for me to stand up. These waves would pick you up and roll you almost all the way to shore.
Exhaustingly surfed in the clear skies and warm water of Jacó for about an hour, gave the board back, then walked the 200 feet back to my $12 hostel and sprung out on a hammock with some tree shade through mid day.
After surfing, taking some photos of the beach, the first day was ending. Nearing the evening I got to know some other people at the hostel. They’ve been there for awhile, and play ball a lot at night when the temp cools off a bit. We ended up playing some night basketball at an outside court just up the road. 4v4 me with 3 traveling Danish friends vs an ex-pat American, couple locals and a German? Not quite sure where their 4th guy was from.
Sweated all I could sweat, then we walked back around 11pm to the hostel. Took an ice cold shower by choice this time, and hung out for a bit. Another great thing about hostels is the common area. You can always count on a few people staying up late kicking back, regardless if they’re a group of friends or all strangers. Swapped travel stories for hours with Danish, Germans, New Zealanders, and North Americans, then went to sleep around 3am.
Wednesday: Slept. Surfing, walking, basketball, traveling all together while in 90 degrees with 100% humidity for 2 days wiped all my energy.
Woke around 10am then ate some hostel breakfast. I grabbed a Spanish Orange Fanta. One of those skinny tall glass bottles; they had a fridge and were selling them. Tasted like candy as I laid back and propped my feet up in a hammock. The hostel family dog “Banana” was sprawled out on the cool shaded cement a few feet away. It was mid day, his eyes were closing and head was bobbing watching me lounge and sip Fanta from the bottle. Definitely was not excited about having to pack up and trek to the bus terminal in an hour.
Booked a new hostel in San Jose for that night called “TripOn Open House”. Said bye to the friends I met only 20 hours before, got directions to the bus terminal, purchased a 5500 Colone bus seat back to San Jose.
Arrived around 6pm and walked to the hostel from the bus terminal I was at 30 hours before. $16 got me a multi leveled hostel with a full bar & restaurant with live music and a pool with an amazing view of the city and a background of mountains. Had all girls in my room of 8 beds; a few more Danish, 2 girls from Amsterdam, and a girl from London.
Thursday: Had a few hours of sleep, woke at 4:45am, called an uber for my 8am Southwest flight back to reality. Arrived at the airport around 6am.
Only 57 hours in Costa Rica, but those hours will stay with me for years. You can remember a short 57 hour journey for the next 57 years, and that’s one of the best things about travel.