Costa Rica will always be my first (travel) love. Before I spent a month there, I had never stepped foot in an airport, let alone been on a plane. I was nineteen and ready for something, anything, that was different. When I managed to save enough money for a service-learning program in San José and a plane ticket, I knew it was my shot. I had to take it.
This experience was my first staying with a host family. My abuelita, Marta, is one of the main highlights of this month of my life. She is feisty, eclectic, motherly, fun, sassy, and crazy in the best possible way. I learned how to make Costa Rican food from her (cue gallo pinto, YUM!) and my Spanish has since been affected by my time in her house. In my travels to other Spanish-speaking countries, locals notice that my Spanish is Costa Rican. I couldn’t be prouder.
Of my favorite places in the country, Tamarindo and Arenal are top destinations. I know I want to visit again someday and see even more of the country, but those are my top two for now. We’ll see if they change when I make my way back to that side of the world!
Tamarindo is a sleepy little surf town on the northwest coast of the country, on the Pacific Ocean. My first visit there was with a group of students. I stayed in a hostel by myself (!) and felt like I was flying. Solo female travel has made me feel like I could do anything, be anyone, go anywhere, and be my best self. It makes me feel alive. This trip was the first time I experienced that feeling. I’ve needed regular fixes ever since.
While in Tamarindo, we took an excursion on a catamaran and had an absolute blast. We bonded so quickly, from the unfamiliarity of a new place and how much fun we had together. I liked Tamarindo so much after this trip that I went again with my mom and grandma after my internship ended.
Arenal was the second weekend trip I took during my short month in Tico land. This time, I stayed in the hotel with the group. It was stunning. There were hot springs in addition to the pool because we were so close to the volcano, and we were fortunate enough to visit when the volcano was visible. One of the teachers I worked with for my internship told me that she had never seen it, despite having lived in Costa Rica her whole life. We were certainly lucky!
While there, we visited a coffee farm and tried sugar cane. I have Costa Rica and Tico culture to thank for my coffee addiction. I wasn’t a coffee drinker at all before visiting, and became so accustomed to drinking café so much that I came home addicted to smooth Costa Rican blend. It’s been three years, and I still head straight for the coffeemaker every morning.
There are many reasons this trip was the best of my life. I experienced a level of independence I couldn’t imagine before. A love for travel rose up in me, a desire to see and experience cultures around the world that wasn’t there until I left the States for the first time. I firmly believe that if it weren’t for this trip, I wouldn’t be in the Peace Corps right now. When you visit this utopia, eat as much gallo pinto and plantains as you can, and be sure to visit more than one part of the country. Hostel travel is a must, and coffee nonnegotiable. Mil gracias, Costa Rica. You can’t imagine the impact you’ve had on my life. ¡Pura Vida!