Costa Rica may appear to be a small country, and in fact it is similar in size to West Virginia. But a common mistake that travelers make, when coming to Costa Rica, is assuming they can cover the whole country in a short time period.
The reality is that due to traffic and road conditions it can take more than a day to drive from one end of the country to the other. So instead of spending your entire vacation sitting in a car, driving over potholes, I recommend that you spend some time researching which part of Costa Rica you want to see, and focus your time in that area. Then conquer another section on your next trip.
My husband Andy and I originally came on a 4-week trip, before moving here, and we were still unable to explore the whole country in that time. In fact we left off the entire Osa Peninsula, and the Caribbean side, which were both places we later fell in love with.
We are often asked what is our favorite part of the country, and that is a hard question to answer. Each province of Costa Rica experiences different weather, contains different animals species and provides a variety of different types of beaches.
I wish I could combine my favorite things about each area that I love...but that is also part of what I love about this country, that each piece is unique and has something new to offer. After spending the last 2 years traveling around Costa Rica, we have become partial to three specific areas and they will forever remain at the top of our list of happy places on Earth.
1) NICOYA PENINSULA
The Nicoya Peninsula is on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, divided into the Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces. Known for it's beaches, it has become a popular tourist destination. With some of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the entire country, it is easy to see why many people are drawn to this area.
Playa Conchal, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula is considered one of the five Blue Zones around the world, where residents live active lives beyond 100 years of age due to a number of factors. The area of Nicoya is noted for the longevity and happiness of the people who inhabit this part of Costa Rica.
My husband and I lived in the small beach town of Samara for 6 months, and some of our fondest Costa Rican memories involve watching the surfers at our favorite beach bar amongst new forever friends, and swinging our days away in a hammock, while enjoying the sunset at our favorite beach: Playa Carrillo.
A colorful sunset at Playa Carrillo.
If you spend any amount of time in this part of the country, it doesn't take long to see why the people of Nicoya are known to be some of the happiest people in the world, as you easily adjust to the slow pace of life, forgetting what day it is. But no worries, this is why we have the saying "Siempre Domingo", because it is "Always Sunday" in pura vida land.
2) CARIBBEAN SIDE
We didn't make it to this piece of Costa Rica on our first 4-week trip, as we had heard many warnings about it being too dangerous. And while you don't want to walk alone on the beach at night, we never felt threatened or unsafe during our month living in Puerto Viejo.
As soon as you step foot onto the Caribbean sand you instantly feel the laid-back beach vibe that oozes through the salty air. It is a place where Bob Marley rules, where there are no hurries and no worries, and where the only jerk is a chicken.
On the Caribbean side of Costa Rica the food is as colorful as the rasta culture. Numerous sodas and restaurants display a bright, fresh, flavorful menu that will leave your taste buds singing.
Tandoori coconut chicken at Stashu's restaurant in Puerto Viejo.
With the only live coral in Costa Rica, this area is the most ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling amongst the vibrant sea life. The beaches are secluded and majestic. Punta Uva, just outside Puerto Viejo, is one of our favorite beaches in the country.
Dreamy, colorful Punta Uva.
The famous Salsa Brava wave breaks right off the beach in downtown Puerto Viejo, making a picturesque spot for surf competitions, as crowds gather to watch the surfers put in a day at the office.
A surfer riding the Salsa Brava wave break during a surf competition.
With mouth-watering food, breath-taking beaches, and a legendary wave break, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is not to be missed. In fact it may be just what the doctor ordered...
3) UVITA/DOMINICAL/OSA PENINSULA
This is a large area I am covering because we were lucky enough to spend a year living 30 minutes south of Uvita, just on the edge of the entrance to the Osa Peninsula. This location allowed us to explore the Dominical/Uvita/Ojochal area extensively, as well as the rugged and lesser known Peninsula de Osa. And we have fallen in love with both pieces of paradise.
The Osa Peninsula is the most biodiverse place on the planet. Despite that, this special slice of Costa Rica is not very well-traveled by tourists, which is also a part of it's charm. In our beginning research of Costa Rica we did not read anything about this lesser known area.
In the last year we have managed to tour the Sierpe river mangroves, boat around the crystal clear Golfo Dulce with a pod of dolphins, and we have taken numerous road trips exploring the untouched beaches of the Osa. Mother nature is wild and abundant, and humans truly are the minority in this piece of the country that we refer to as the "Real Costa Rica".
A bluff overlooking the ocean on a road trip to Playa Pavones on the Osa Peninsula.
A bottle-nosed dolphin chasing our surf in the Golfo Dulce.
A relaxing sloth, reclining in a tree above the Sierpe river mangroves.
The Uvita area is a made up of pristine beach after beach, which together create the Marina Ballena National Park. Here you can walk the famous Whale's Tail beach, an exposed stretch of sand that creates the shape of a whale's tail at low tide.
A view of the Whale's Tail beach from the mountains above Uvita.
A few kilometers to the north of Uvita lies Dominical, a beach-front surfing town full of lively beach bars, surfers, hippies, and nomad gypsy travelers. And a few kilometers to the south lies Ojochal, a growing expat community with winding neighborhoods and exotic restaurants.
The extreme nature will blow your mind in this piece of the country. The Sierpe River is one of the world's largest mangroves, The Golfo Dulce is one of the world's deepest gulfs, and Playa Pavones is known as the world's longest left wave.
It is the only place in Costa Rica where you can witness all 4 monkey species in the wild, and one of the few places to see vibrant scarlet macaws flying overhead. You simply cannot miss this gem during your travels.
Two scarlet macaws flying in front of our balcony at Osa Mountain Village/Toucan Valley.
A baby howler monkey clinging to his mother's back while closely examining us.
That, folks, in a nutshell is what you will learn after traveling around Costa Rica for 2 years. And since not everyone can do that (although you certainly should), we decided to share our secret, priceless, insider knowledge with you...
...but now we will have to kill you. No worries amigo, I'm pretty sure I found heaven on a beach right here in Costa Rica. So you can just consider it a free vacation.
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.