Let me start by saying that Costa Rica is not the first destination an urbanista or cosmo gal would think of for a vacation. Going solo even less so. It’s not a cosmopolitan town but I’m no stranger to that. After all, I went to Iceland and I love a good beach town (I heart Negril). However, after hearing everyone state how awesome it was, I decided to check it out.
I should start by explaining that my review is only limited to the three areas I visited: San Jose, Arenal, and Manuel Antonio. San Jose, itself, is often used as the base camp and many people will tell you it’s not that grand of a place to visit. Being a cosmo gal I would never make such a judgement without seeing it for myself. And of course I stayed in the city. Soooo, yeah the city isn’t New York City. It’s grungy but it has some hip, fancy parts. Honestly, the suburbs were more my style. Nice casino hotels and mega malls. I guess it was more touristy. I will say, if you are going to Costa Rica, you aren’t going for a cosmo vibe, you’re going for the beachy/outdoorsy vibe.
San Jose – City
I stayed two nights in the city of San Jose at Hotel Santo Thomas. It was a quaint old fashioned boutique hotel with friendly staff. While it was clean, it could use some repair/updating. The area surrounding the hotel was slightly sketch but ok, although I wouldn’t take any night strolls. The hotel had a small pool and offers a free breakfast that is more local style (eggs, toast, fruit, rice and beans). I stayed alone in a wing of the hotel which was a bit creepy. There wasn’t any air conditioner in my wing but I didn’t feel hot. San Jose was much cooler than the other parts I visited. The hotel also has a tiny gym.
I stayed in the lovely La Mansion Inn. It’s not on the Manuel Antonio Beach (but near by) although it is near another less crowded beach. The hotel has a roof top area for dinning and drinks and a pool with bar. There is also a restaurant and you can get a reservation with free breakfast. The hotel staff was friendly and give you a tour of the hotel upon check in. On the weekend, I’m assuming it’s regular, management hosts a guest cocktail reception. Note: the area is spread out so it’s not really short walking friendly. It takes close to 15 minutes going uphill mostly to get to the main road from the hotel. I got my exercise. The main road has a bunch of restaurants to check out and you can catch the bus for the equivalent of less than a dollar to get to the main beach area with more shopping and dining.
I stayed at the Sheraton about 20-30 minutes from the airport. It was very nice with breakfast included, a bakery area, nice gym, rooftop pool and casino. The mega mall is technically walking distance but they offer a free shuttle every two hours.
Things To Do
San Jose- City Tour
I took the VIP evening city tour to get an idea of San Jose city. I know there is a bigger push to explore the city but the tour didn’t really entice me enough to want to see more. Most city tours can get a little dry and this was no exception, plus some of the areas we searched on foot made me a bit uncomfortable especially at night. I would pass on doing a city tour and just check out things you are particularly interested in like the Central Market or the Gold or Jade museums.
In the suburbs of Escazu I also visited the multi plaza mall which was indeed mega. I did not get a chance to explore the whole area and it was a bit overwhelming but if you are a shopper, it’s worth checking out.
The Bali Hotsprings and Volcano excursion was a fun tour. We also made a few stops on the way. The Hotsprings, although touristy and not as natural as I thought they would be, was still relaxing and we had an ok dinner at the restaurant where I got a good shot of the volcano when the clouds dispersed a bit.
This area is one of the most well known parks and beaches. If you are into nature and wildlife it’s fun to check out. I did a nature hike and hanging at the paid part of the beach is part of it. I didn’t stay because I can’t really relax on a beach where raccoons just come up to you and try to rummage through you bags with you next to it (I saw this with my own eyes). I also went to Gaia Hotel for a fantastic spa treatment to satisfy the luxury gal in me.
Ok, I can’t end my recap without doing my take on solo travel. I hear a lot about it being something one should try and that you learn a lot about yourself. I have to say that it really wasn’t for me. I’m more on the extrovert end of the line so dining by myself or sitting on a beach alone wasn’t really that fun for me. Sure I didn’t have to deal with waiting for other people to get ready or if they didn’t want to do something having to figure out what to do, but if you have the right travel partner that’s not a big issue.
I was able to interact with more strangers going on my own but most people I met were with others. I was surprised that I didn’t encounter more solo travelers. If I had, I think it would have been better.
I never really felt unsafe there. I took all the needed precautions and made sure I scheduled my transportation in advance between the areas. Check out Grayline for transports and excursions. Note : Follow up with phone calls to confirm everything.
I also made sure that I knew which cars were cabs (red cars) and which ones were hacks. I didn’t flash my money or jewelry and didn’t walk around with my passport (kept it locked in the safe). Note: You can use US dollars there, and at times it’s cheaper to do so.
A lot of people wanted to know if I was there alone. I made a judgement call regarding telling them if I was or not. I was often called brave. *shrugs*
I recommend using google translate app. It’s free and you can take pictures of words, write them with your finger, speak them or type them in. I had to use it with my driver because he spoke barely any English and my Spanish was rusty. You can even use it offline which is key in areas without internet access.
In the End
I wouldn’t be apposed to going to Costa Rica again but I’d prefer to go with someone and maybe check out the beach town of Jaco or the Caribbean side of the country. However, overall, it is a lovely country, with lush greenery, nature and kind people. I thought it was worth the visit.