In 2006, I went to Costa Rica, solo. I was in my mid-twenties, pre-marriage, pre-kids, living in Los Angeles. I wasn’t so much in love with the city (yet), and I had just gotten my heartbroken. My plans to travel with said heart breaker that upcoming summer was no longer, but I was determined to show him (and me) that I could still have an adventure on my own. While spite might not be the best motivator in life, I was hellbent to mend my bruised ego and do something for myself – but how? Travel. Where? Costa Rica. Solo.
It happened that I had a friend from L.A. whose friend owned a surf camp in Costa Rica, and he would be visiting that friend in July. Great, I would tag-a-long with him for a week before making my way out on my own.
I put my room on sublet. Quit my weird temp job where I answered phones for a famous person. And, booked my flight.
So, Costa Rica! I heard it was a relatively easy place to travel through, they have an amazing tourism industry, and flights are inexpensive. I also knew someone there to get me started and over that hump and fear of traveling by myself with sub-par Spanish. It was a done deal.
I spent one month in Costa Rica with the goal of touching West Coast and East. Here is how I ended up spending my month in Costa Rica, solo.
Fly into Liberia.
First Stop, Playa Grande: I started my journey with a little hand-holding in the Guanacaste Region at a surf camp, not surfing. Playa Grande is a small town just over the estuary from the much more touristy Tamarindo. At the time, there were not a ton of amenities in Playa Grande (I can’t be certain what is there now), but the seclusion was very peaceful; even if I was being a bit crotchety. I think I was going through the anger part of the grieving process. My friend probably regretted inviting me.
My days were spent exploring Tamarindo, swimming in the ocean, hanging out with the other guests at the Surf Camp, and learning about the “Pura Vida” life. I made really nice friends with people from Argentina, France, and Barcelona, and even with the little crabs that are everywhere in Costa Rica.
If you are a surfer, you will love Playa Grande and Costa Rica in general.
Back to Liberia:
I traveled back to Liberia where I stayed just a night in probably the worst hotel room, ever. Thanks, Lonely Planet for recommended the flea-infested room with the drunk next door neighbor.
That was awful!
I also spent the day at the Post Office, sending home EVERYTHING I did not need. TIP: Backpackers should not over pack, heed the warning.
Life is full of lessons. Like this one: Don’t let spite blind you.
There were a few moments on the trip that I did. For instance, while sending home all my belongings at the post office, I struck up a lovely conversation with a friendly local. I left the post office and ran into him again on the street. My intuition said “ask for recommendations”, but my ego said, “you don’t need any help, especially from a man”. And what did that get me, flea bites. Hindsight, ugh!
Getting to Monteverde:
Public buses in Costa Rica are incredibly inexpensive. It was a few dollars to travel by bus from Liberia up to the Mountain Region of Monteverde. Long bus rides, but eventful ones too. I got scolded on one bus by a religious man for not wearing pants. My hiking shorts doth do offend? The other bus up the mountain was quite crowded and I stood on the stairs the majority of the way, getting off for every passenger and parcel delivery. There were also baby chickens on that bus. It was memorable.
Cloud Forest of Monteverde:
Monteverde could possibly be one of my favorite places on Earth. I could have stayed in Monteverde for a week. The climate was much cooler than the rest of Costa Rica in July. The Cloud Forest was a jungle dream wrapped in clouds. There was plant and wildlife like I had never seen; ferns as big as your rooftop and bugs as bright as neon lights. The hostel I stayed in was a warm home that bonded travelers like family. I do wish I had accepted the invitation to travel over to La Fortuna to see Volcan Arenal with my hostel mates. Another one of those moments where my ego got in the way and I ignored my intuition.
Unfortunately, before I reached my next destination I had my wallet stolen. Luckily, I had my passport in a separate pocket, or it would have been much worst. I only had to figure out how to get cash sent to me and my credit card turned off. I found a Western Union and put in an embarrassing call to my parents and all was figured out. Thankfully.
Language School in the Orosi Valley:
I found this little language school in the Orosi Valley, South of San Jose. I thought it would be a good way to occupy some of my time in Costa Rica, and help me brush up on my pretty badly spoken Spanish. We attended class in airy classrooms with one-on-one teachers and studied outside on the patio drinking all you can drink coffee that cost $1.00 a day. Our accommodations were in dorm-style rooms. I don’t think I carried on with much improvement in my Spanish (which was my fault for hanging out with English speakers most of the time after), but I did learn to salsa dance and finally gained some rhythm.
To The East Coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca:
Thank goodness, I met this super cool dude at the bus depot on my way to Puerto Viejo. The Caribbean Coast was my last destination and Puerto Viejo was a party town, at least where we first ended up. I was happy to have a friend who was like a brother to look out for one another. When you travel alone, you are never really alone. It is fairly easy to make acquaintances with people, especially on the backpacker’s track. If you decide to travel solo, you are rarely ever alone if you don’t want to be.
Our first night we tent camped at this hostel and it was not my thing. We ended up splurging for a private hotel for the last few nights. I was so grateful for the hot shower and air-conditioned room.
My most memorable moment in Puerto Viejo was finding Bread & Chocolate Cafe on my way out. The owner was a young guy from my fellow home State of Maryland. He lent me a book to read on my way home. I would definitely put this place on your list to stop in to, the reviews still look great today.
Flying Home From San Jose
So, that is it, I made it from West to East. Accomplished my goal. Met some really nice people. Made a few missteps, but ultimately, felt confident in me in the end. I went back to L.A. for another 4 years, or so. I might have fallen in love a few more times, and obviously met a wonderful man when the timing was right who I started a family with.
This was just one part of my journey to share, with many lessons learned.