Active Travel

The Best Thing I Did In Costa Rica


The first things most people will ask you upon returning from a trip is: what was the best part? I don’t know why humanity so loves the superlative, but I am guilty of this as well. But it’s never an easy question for me to answer.

Except in this one instance.

Over the course of an eight-day first-time visit to Costa Rica, I did many things.

I came.


After a three-hour early-morning flight from Philadelphia to Miami and then another three-hour flight from Miami to San Jose, CR, my husband and I got in a rental car shuttle bus, picked up our car, and drove out of the city and into the mountains. Passing through foggy valleys and twisting along winding roads, we stopped briefly at a roadside stand to pick up some snacks (and use the very clean, free public toilets). The drive took as long as one flight leg, yet we made it to our absolutely gorgeous volcano-view eco-resort just as the sun fully set and the green season rain began to fall.

There are few things as magical or wondrous as waking up in one world and making it to an entirely new world in time for dinner.

I saw.



Sightseeing in Costa Rica is a little different from sightseeing in other parts of the world. When I went to Paris, I saw the Louvre. When I went to LA, I saw the Hollywood sign and the guys working out on Venice Beach. When I went to Barcelona I saw the Sagrada Familia. In Chicago, Cloudgate; in London, Westminster Abbey; in Mitchell, South Dakota…the corn palace.

But in Costa Rica, I saw an early-morning rainbow over La Fortuna waterfall. I saw cutter ants marching down trees in Arenal National park. I saw one butterfly that had wings that looked exactly like the head of a snake on one side and the eyes of a bird on the other, and another butterfly whose wings were entirely translucent, but for a bit of electric blue. I saw capuchin monkeys steal a girl’s cheese on the beach at Manuel Antonio and howler monkeys screaming in the trees outside of my bathroom window.

I ate.


I’m still not over the eggs I had in Costa Rica. And by ‘the eggs’ I don’t mean any specific eggs. I mean every single egg I ate. And I ate at least two every morning. The yolks. Oh god, the yolks.

1536487_856987067701776_4335326214811849082_nFood in Costa Rica is not fancy. It is simple. And amazing. And fresh and local. The pineapple floating in my (many glasses of) sangria was better than any pineapple I’ve ever had anywhere.

When we were at the beach, I ate fish. Specifically, I had one of the best meals of my life at a pirate-themed bar a few miles outside of Manuel Antonio. It was simple seared tuna–at least twelve ounces of it, if not sixteen–served over rice in a coconut sauce with a cucumber slaw heaped on top (pictured, left, along with my husband and his head-sized burger and featuring a tiny bit of the stunning ocean view.)  I’m also pretty sure it was something like $12. And I know the pitcher of sangria was on special.

When I was in the mountains, I ate beef. Specifically, we had really good hamburgers from some little thatched roof restaurant/bar in downtown La Fortuna. We also had the most amazing steak lunch on a deck perched high over the foothills of the volcano, which we enjoyed while watching the cows, goats, and sheep frolic on the open pasture below (yes, those cows were future amazing steak lunches.)

The Superlative Experience

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ok, that all sounds great. But get to the point already. Don’t you remember the original question? What was the best part?

The best thing I did in Costa Rica was…rent a car.

I’ll pause here while your confused expression fades. Here’s a photo of a beach iguana to help pass the time…


Yes, that’s right. Of all the things I did and saw (and ate) in Costa Rica, the absolute best thing I did was rent a car. Because without the car, I would not have been able to see or do or eat most of those things.

Without my own car…


The beautiful, winding drive that was my first introduction to the country? Replaced by a crowded airport shuttle bus.

The early morning rainbow over La Fortuna falls? Gone by the time the crowds of tour bus passengers arrived later in the day.

The cutter ants and the butterflies? Scared away by yet more tour bus crowds.

All of the amazing, local food? Still likely local and probably pretty good, but purchased from an overpriced and rather sterile hotel restaurant.

The morning I spent on the beautiful, deserted, somewhat-hidden and definitely a bit secret beach that I didn’t even write about because I sincerely don’t want people to know about it (but which may or may not be pictured above)? Wouldn’t have happened.

Everything I loved about my trip to Costa Rica–and I loved everything about my trip to Costa Rica–was made possible by having my own set of wheels.

But wait–I know what you’re thinking! You’re all like but Tracy, I’ve heard that driving in Costa Rica is scary/dangerous/a bad idea! 

This is true. So is driving in LA, and millions of people do that every day.

I drove for a week in Costa Rica in the rainy season and I was fine. And more than that, my overly cautious husband passenger was fine too. In fact, we were more than fine. We had a wonderful time. See?


Disclosure: No one paid me to write this, and I was not sponsored by anyone during any part of my visit to Costa Rica. However, if you read this and are considering a similar trip, I highly recommend The Volcano Lodge and Springs resort in Arenal and renting a car from Sixt Costa Rica. And of course, if you are planning a trip and have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below. Happy traveling! 

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