Costa Rica | Ringing in the New Year Abroad

I don’t know about you, but New Year’s Eve never quite lives up to my expectations. I usually stick to the American tradition of dressing fancy and “going out” but I’m always ready to go home to my bed and dog well before midnight. This year, I let go of my traditional NYE expectations and booked a trip to warm and sunny Costa Rica.

Determined to have a great time and not wanting to leave anything up to chance, I booked through Under30Experiences. If you’ve followed by travels before, you’ve seen that I traveled with them to Belize and hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. They’ve never let me down! Costa Rica is one of their main trips for introducing young professionals to international travel. It includes a variety of activities from surfing to salsa, cooking local cuisine to jumping in waterfalls. Costa Rica is known for it’s happy and laid back culture and this this trip truly highlighted the beauty of their country. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Day 1: We’re Off!

We left Chicago extremely early to make it to San Jose International Airport in time to catch the group bus. Unfortunately, one of the only flights that was supposed to get us there in time was on Spirits Airlines. I usually avoid flying Spirit at all costs but this time I didn’t really have a choice and in true Spirit fashion they ruined everything!

Apparently, Spirit never has enough gates for the amount of planes they have landing. We had a layover in Ft. Lauderdale and we landed and sat on the tarmac for about an hour on both legs of our trip. We arrived in San Jose 30 minutes late instead of an hour early like we had planned and missed the bus. Our only choice was to take an Uber or a cab an hour and half outside of the city to meet up with the rest of our group at dinner. Uber is not “official” in Cost Rica and therefore technically illegal (because the taxis don’t like it) but you can still use it to get around.

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We got an Uber and were able to catch up with the group in Playa Hermosa for dinner and to watch the sunset from the beach. From there, we all continued together to our hotel in Manuel Antonio.img_6066

Day 2: Farmers Market & Cooking

Our hotel was boutique style and directly in-between Manuel Antonio and Quepos. Walking around in Manuel Antonio is not recommended because the main roads tightly curve around the mountains and don’t have sidewalks. Drivers go extremely fast and we saw multiple accidents.

We were however able to walk down a side street to some makeshift stairs that took us down to Quepos. On our way, we stopped at the house of a women who sells homemade ice cream. Such a simple thing but it made me so happy. I get my ice cream addiction from my mother.

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In Quepos, we visited the farmers market and I had a delicious and refreshing coconut.

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After the market, we took a very short ferry ride to the El Cocal community just off shore. We spent the morning preparing a traditional Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, fish tacos and plantains.

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In the afternoon, we went to the main beach in the area called Espadilla Beach. Because of the holiday, the beach was much busier than usual. Some of the group took surf lessons and a few of us decided to relax in the shade and just swim in the ocean.

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We finished the day with salsa lessons at a local bar/nightclub. It stayed so warm at night, that it was more of a workout than a dance lesson! I’ve already forgotten most of what we learned so I’m going to have to find some salsa lessons in Chicago to keep up my new skills.

Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls

On our third day, we took a two hour bus ride along very narrow and winding roads (if you can even call them roads) to reach a remote eco lodge. From there, it was a short hike to a teeny-tiny suspension bridge that would lead us to a hidden waterfall. The first time we crossed the bridge was terrifying! But on the way back I was much more confident that I wasn’t going to be thrown over the edge and I stopped to take some photos.

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That afternoon, we had a yoga session in an outdoor space. The warmth and the trees around us made is a wonderfully relaxing experience. Towards the end of the class we could hear crashing in the trees above us as monkeys jumped from limb to limb.

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We took it easy that night and went to a local bar near our hotel. Most bars in the area close at 10 p.m. so we were in bed and resting up for New Year’s Eve pretty early.

Day 4: ¡Feliz Año Neuvo!

New Year’s Eve was our last full day in Costa Rica and I knew I wanted to spend it on the beach.

Taxis are very accessible in Manuel Antonio, you simply call the taxi phone number and they will send one to you. It can be a little challenging if you don’t speak Spanish so to avoid that conversation we made the short walk down to Quepos to pick up refreshments for the beach and to catch a cab.

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We were at the beach by 10 a.m. We set up our hammock and also rented a boogie board. The waves were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. Tons of people were surfing but I stuck to waist deep water with the boogie board and the waves were still over my head! It was a blast and we spent most of the day in the water.

We were also surprised by a hoard of monkeys that came swinging through the trees at the beach. It was so neat to see monkeys in the wild instead of in a cage at the zoo and it was fascinating to watch them go about their day.

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For our last dinner, we took a bus ride up to a restaurant on the top of a mountain. It was another beautiful night but the highlight was that we FINALLY saw a sloth! It was ever so slowly climbing across the power line just outside the restaurant.

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We then ventured back to Quepos for New Year’s Eve celebrations. There were tons of local people, live music and constant fireworks. And at midnight, “Tres…Dos…Uno! Feliz Ano Neuvo!” A completely surreal moment and a New Year’s Eve I will never forget.

Day 5: Back to the Arctic

We departed for the airport and made a short stop for souvenirs along the side of the road to break up the 2.5 hour drive.

Needless to say, we had another terrible Spirit Airlines experience. There was vomit on the seat in front of us that wasn’t cleaned up from the previous flight because Spirit doesn’t clean their planes between flights. But not even Spirit Airlines could’ve ruined my amazing experience in Costa Rica. I know for a fact it won’t be my last.

¡Pura Vida! is more than the Costa Rica saying, it’s their lifestyle. Translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life.” It’s about enjoying and appreciating your life regardless of your circumstance and I think that’s a reminder we all need!

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