Costa Rica is now part of the new ‘non-US’ destinations that SouthWest flies! A round trip to Costa Rica averages 25,000 Points, which means one SouthWest credit card can get you and your special someone there. If your special someone returns the favor, you could get the hotels and/or car rental for free as well.
We opted for the more rustic ‘Naturey’ vacation, as we both love the outdoors and wanted to visit an actual rainforest. Costa Rica is one of the most laid back places on Earth, and their ‘Pura Vida‘ lifestyle makes you immediately feel at ease with the locals. What we call ‘Going Green’ is their normal way of living, and they’re often ranked one of the happiest countries in the world.
We found a Groupon for the Samasati Rainforest Sanctuary & Nature Retreat: $850 with Half Off Groupon for 5 nights. We used the Chase UltimateRewards Points to pay for partial Flight and Car Rental in Costa Rica, which in this case was actually cheaper than anywhere else online.
Our lodging at Samasati included local organic breakfast and dinner each day, and was authentic as it was delicious. Fresh fruits and veggies and local specialties each day, and I really liked the ‘real’ coconut water with breakfast.
The views from this resort were breathtaking, and it was actually IN the forest which was a plus for us. Our Circadian Rhythm changed quickly, as the Howler Monkeys become your alarm clock at 6 AM. The resort has many activities they’ll setup and drive you to, but we like to be thrifty and adventurous…. so we rented a car without insurance and drove to some desolate beaches 30 minutes away. Driving in Costa Rica was enjoyable, like driving down the Coastal highway on the Pacific Coast. We happened upon an Animal Sanctuary
The Tree of Life Animal Sanctuary is a rehab center for local animals people couldn’t handle… But it comes off as mini-zoo with 900% less people. All the animals are for the most in their Actual ‘Natural’ Habitat, vs a cage with a stick like in the bigger zoos. The owner greeted us with a baby monkey clinging to her chest, and we got to pet a Lemur she had. The whole place was beautiful, and at times it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves since it was kind of out of the way.
We also got to visit this incredible Chocolate Plantation, where we got a guided personal tour with great insight into the local wildlife, plants, and of course the methods that go into making chocolate from cacao seeds. While there, we were visited by some local kids who were swimming in the river… and then used this special tree ‘sap’ that was mildly poisonous / blinding, to ‘stun’ crayfish to come out of their homes in the riverbeds. The kids then caught said cray fish, put them into a bucket which would be cooked up that afternoon. I thought this was awesome, and the least touristy thing one could experience while on a Cocoa Tour as a tourist. The host also let us sample some of his home made cocoa liquor (liqueur?) – which was incredible. Picture an evervescent, mildly carbonated clearish yellow drink, that tastes like insanely good chocolate, and goes down smooth… maybe 20 proof. He let us take a 20 oz sample home in a juice container, that nearly exploded in our luggage due to continued fermentation. The chocolate that we got to make, process, and sample – was out of this world… more of a slightly gritty chocolate ‘granola bar’ than traditional chocolate, with a hint of crunch to it. Man I miss that place.
Ten Tips for your Trip to Costa Rica:
1) Part of the ‘Pura Vida’ Lifestyle mantra includes being more laid back…about EVERYTHING. That includes bringing you your food or any situation where you might expect ‘US style customer service’ . In other words, be prepared to wait a bit more than usual.
2) As crazy as it sounds, not all roads have street signs in Costa Rica. Even WITH a GPS it can be difficult to navigate to your destination… Locals often say ‘oh (that place) is down the street from ‘such and such’ church. We used a Garmin vs Phone GPS, with a Costa Rica map pre loaded, which in retrospect was risky if it didnt work.
3) The roads can be treacherous, but beautiful. You will come across ‘Trust Bridges’ where its one lane over a ravine, and in the dark it can be a scary experience in a tiny rental car. But on the up side, you get to drive next to mountains that look like Jurassic Park scenery. But again, Pot-Holes, EVERYWHERE.
4) Our Rental Car experience was OK, but others report having a lot of issues with ‘price changes at the counter’ or requirements for extra insurance. We used Chase’s UR ‘Pay with Points’ for the Sapphire’ benefits, but also it seemed to help us at the front desk… no insurance snafu and it was only $137 for a week… Other options I found online were in the upper $200s. However we got a car that had ‘no license plates, as it takes a month to get them for new cars.’ Never got pulled over though, and the clerk was non-chalant about us not having freakin’ license plates.
5) Stop off at the little mini restaurant, known as a ‘Soda‘ where you can more authentic food from a little Ma & Pa shop. The hearty food is all local and delicious, and super cheap!
6) It costs money to LEAVE The Costa Rican Airport! I can’t remember the # but its around $20 US equiv per person…so don’t waste all your Colones before hitting the airport!
7) Some of the beaches are so secluded and chill, that you’ll wonder if you’re in the right place. We almost turned back cuz we thought we were on private property, but instead we enjoyed this amazing, secluded beach out of a magazine, all to ourselves, for hours… one person stopped by after a while. I beleive this beach was Punta Uva near Puerto Viejo.
8) Do at least one rainforest’y hike. Seeing leaf-cutter ants do their thing is a trip, and they’re everywhere. After the rain, a billion frogs come out… we were ‘fortunate’ enough to see one eaten by a giant spider.
9) Visit ANY Animal Sanctuary. They are pretty plentiful and they not only help animals that have been abandoned, injured or otherwise come into hardship…but you get a more hands on experience vs a zoo, and I think they’re all privately managed by folks who seem to love what they do. At ours, the host/clerk had a baby monkey on her shoulder while checking us in…and let us play with it. You can’t do that at some corporate prison zoo.
10) Visit the FREE Hot Springs vs spending $175 a night for the ‘resort’ Baldi Hot Springs.