This past Christmas we led our children on a scavenger hunt of gifts. Each gift contained a clue as to the next gift’s location and each was a clue to our upcoming summer trip. New masks, snorkels and fins could have led them anywhere, but when they received the stuffed animals that matched their rainforest play characters from elementary school, they quickly guessed what we had planned for them.
Our children have been wanting to explore the rainforests of Costa Rica ever since they studied it in elementary school. This is something we have brought up for fall or winter break in the past. However, Sydney, our oldest, wanted more time to explore the country. We wanted to plan something our kids can remember fondly for years and provide a learning experience for them in the process.
We loved visiting the pristine beaches, walking the whale’s tail, and observing the abundant wildlife. Jennifer especially couldn’t get enough the vegetation, the birds and the cute furry creatures. We spent a day dolphin and whale watching, and several days exploring national parks and walking the hanging bridges where we could meet monkeys, sloths, toucans, parrots and a wide variety of other birds.
Sydney performing as the frog in her first grade play 10 years ago.
In all the towns we visited, other than San Jose, the beach or the jungle was never far away. Even in San Jose, brightly colored birds were abundant for observation. I would assume the jungle cats in Costa Rica behave much like the mountain lions in our area, because we never saw any.
Jennifer and I loved to explore the forest and sit on the back porch or on the balcony and observe the monkeys and birds. Unfortunately, our kids grew tired of hiking in the jungles and exploring the wildlife after it was no longer “new” to them. Luckily for us, we had many other types of outdoor activities that the kids greatly enjoyed including the hanging bridges, zip-lines, Tarzan jumps and white-water rafting. Visitors can choose many of these types of activities in the mountain regions (We stayed at the base of a semi-dormant volcano in La Fortuna), or they can visit the beach just a couple of hours away.
The Dollar Goes a Long Way
We spent less in Costa Rica than we would have if we were traveling within the United States. It cost us less to fly to Central America on Copa Airlines than it currently cost to fly to the west coast or even to Florida on a domestic flight. The dollar goes a long way these days and will likely continue to strengthen as long as the Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates. Jennifer and Sydney were able to find many treasures to bring back home at a fraction of what they expected to pay.
Seafood is abundant throughout the country and the meals are very similar to what we enjoyed in Belize earlier this year (See Joe & Jen’s UnBelizeable Adventure). What we didn’t expect was an abundance of craft beer. I was able to try at least a dozen different varieties and even when eating out, the beers were typically less than $2 a piece. We had a hard time figuring out how to tip our servers, however. Sometimes we thought the tip was included, but we soon realized that they do not add a place for the tip unless you instruct them ahead of time. Keeping enough cash handy to reward good service is recommended.
Many people like to retire to Costa Rica, and I can understand why with the relatively low tax rates and the affordable medical care in most towns. Jack slipped and fell while he was running around outside and thought he broke his arm. One of the neighbors called an ambulance and he saw the doctor shortly after arriving to the clinic. We were there for about an hour and after a couple of x-rays and a prescription were sent on our way. The entire cost, including the ride in the ambulance was less than $300.
It Ain’t Easy Being Green?
Most of our time was spent “off the grid” in homes surrounded by tropical plants within the rainforest. The stars in the sky seemed brighter when the sky was clear. We could hear birds, frogs and howler monkeys at night, even when it was raining. And it rained A LOT! Whenever we plan a return trip, we want to visit when it is not the rainy season.
We had never experienced humidity to this degree before. The towels and clothing are thinner in Costa Rica partially because thicker material would take too long to dry or stay dry. Taking notes on paper was difficult because the level of humidity, especially in the more southern regions caused the paper to grow soggy over time.
We lost power more than once. The first home we rented operated purely on solar power until the kids plugged in all their devices and we had to turn on the generator. Getting a good internet connection was also difficult for streaming video and other activities. I personally enjoyed watching many of the TV shows in Spanish and learning more about the culture via immersion.
It takes longer to travel long distances across the country. The roads are less developed, narrower, and not as well maintained as many people may like, but this allows us to better enjoy the countryside and experience all the mom-and-pop shops, restaurants and bars along the way.
We loved to stop along the side of the road and buy coconuts, other fruits and handmade goods from shopkeepers. It was refreshing that we rarely saw any litter and recycling was encouraged in a friendly manner.
The Best Part of Costa Rica
If you have ever spent much time in Costa Rica, you will find the most refreshing part of visiting is the attitude of the Costa Rican people (Ticos). They live by a simple phrase, “Pura Vida”.
I’ve written a few times about Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage” and the benefits of following his recipe for happiness. Costa Ricans practice this all throughout the country. We occasionally ran across someone who didn’t speak English, but we never had too much trouble communicating as everyone was extremely gracious.
It was refreshing to get away from a lot of the judgement currently present in America today with everyone constantly on their toes trying not to offend someone or turn a basic conversation into a political statement. We could sense that the Costa Ricans are keen on protecting its resources but also protecting individual freedoms. It was a place where I feel everyone can be themselves and no one sees color, gender, religious affiliations etc.
Until you’ve been to Costa Rica, you will not truly know what Pura Vida feels like. It’s an emotion, it is an attitude, it is happiness, and it is a way of life. Once you’ve visited, you will understand the true meaning of Pura Vida.
Joe Franklin, CFP
President, Wealth Advisor, Franklin Wealth Management, LLC