Laura and I met after I had just spent two years living in Kazakhstan and she was applying for grad schools in England, so travel has always been a huge part of our relationship. We started planning our honeymoon almost as soon as we began planning our wedding, and after talking to friends, looking at flights, and consulting our lists of countries we’d always wanted to visit, we decided to spend our honeymoon in gorgeous, eco-friendly Costa Rica.
We took two weeks over the winter holidays to travel in Costa Rica, from December 21st to January 4th. Our direct flight down was just over five hours, which meant we arrived in Alajuela, the town where we spent the night before embarking on the main part of our Costa Rican adventure, feeling refreshed and excited. We woke up early in the morning, had a meal of gallo pinto, and took the Easy Ride shuttle service we’d booked in advance from Alajuela to the less heavily developed Southern Pacific coast in the province of Puntarenas, where we’d decided to start our trip. The length and crowdedness of our shuttle rides varied (we took three 2 to 4 hour trips, in total), and while they’re a good, cost-effective option, we’d recommend that anyone comfortable driving and in possession of adequate funds consider renting a car to get around, since we found that to be the fastest and easiest option overall.
Our first stop was Hacienda Barú Wildlife Refuge in Dominical, which we would highly recommend to anyone who wants a chance to explore Costa Rica’s amazing wildlife with expert naturalists. As soon as we got there and got settled into our cabin, we went out to explore the rainforest hiking trails to which all lodge guests have access, and walked through the secondary rainforest, swamp forest, and wetlands (catching a glimpse of a flock of great curassow birds on the way) to the pristine, palm-lined beach. All of Costa Rica’s beaches are public, by law, so finding beautiful, sandy stretches of beach in which to relax was incredibly easy. After our hike, we ate dinner at the lodge, where we discovered the Costan Rican casado, a basic meal of rice, black beans, salad, a tortilla, and the optional addition of chicken or fish. I’ve taken the recipe back with me, since it’s a delicious, easy lunch and dinner option.
With my birthday on December 20th and Laura’s on December 23rd, our birthday festivities are usually caught up in the Christmas rush and celebrated in near-freezing temperatures. This year, however, on the morning of Laura’s birthday, we woke up in our poolside cabin to the sounds of tropical birds and bright, warm sunlight. We’d arranged to take a morning rainforest hike with one of Hacienda Baru’s experienced guides, and we spent four hours exploring the rainforest with him, sighting white-faced capuchin monkeys, agoutis, and both species of sloth (including a mother sloth and baby three-toed sloth munching on leaves. Apparently, as our guide explained, baby sloths are a little too hyper for their lifestyle when they’re young, and have to be taught to “live slow.”) Along the way, we tried a bite of cacao bean and watched our guide demonstrate how pre-Columbian people once used soldier leafcutter ants to stitch up their wounds while trekking through the forest. The soldier ants will attack anything in their path with their incredibly powerful pincers, so if you hold your wound closed, they’ll clamp down onto your skin and never let go: even, it turns out, when you remove their bodies. So their heads can be used as surgical stitches, holding the gash together to allow it to heal: invaluable information, if for some reason you ever find yourself injured in the rainforest.
After our night at Hacienda Baú, we rented a car in Dominical and drove down the coast to Ojochal, a small village in an even less developed part of Puntarenas. The roads in that area are rocky and steep, and can get quite muddy with any rain, so we’d recommend renting a 4X4 if possible (though we did fine with our midsize Kia). We had booked a few nights at Diquis del Sur, a self-enclosed collection of villas, houses, and a tropical botanical garden high on a hill in Ojochal where rentals are available for $100 or less a night. The main pavilion at Diquis has both an open-air dining room and bar, and we were warmly welcomed at the check-in there by both the gracious proprietor and Wendy, the adorable canine mascot of the place. There was also a talking parrot named Alex, and, in the fruit trees and bushes surrounding the pool and deck, vibrantly colored birds. I’m not a birdwatcher, but Costa Rica made me wish I had a set of binoculars and a birding guide on hand at all times, to identify the eye-catching species we saw every place that we stayed.
Our villa at Diquis Del Sur overlooked the rainforest and a grove of guanacaste trees where we were told to look out for toucans. We were also told that the howler monkeys in the surrounding trees would be our alarm clocks, which proved to be true: their hooting could be heard from miles away. The villa had basic accommodations, and our favorite feature was the front porch, where we could hang out in hammock chairs and take in the sweeping, verdant view while purple hummingbirds darted around in the trees surrounding us. The peaceful porch proved to be an asset when Laura, unfortunately, got food poisoning from some beef at a local restaurant. We’d recommend—and other travelers have verified—that sticking to seafood while in Costa Rica is the best choice, since it’s affordable, delicious, and often much fresher than the red meat that’s available.
Still, if you’re going to convalesce, paradise is the place to do it. We had a wonderful time at Diquis, strolling the gardens where the kitchen staff gathers fruit for breakfast, hanging out in the pool beneath the tropical trees, and watching the sunset from El Mirador, the elevated porch above the dining room from which you can see miles of rainforest, straight to the ocean. We also visited a local beach, Playa Ventanas, where people were celebrating Christmas Eve with barbecues beneath the coconut palms. The beach is known for its many caves and the cliffs that frame the ocean view, and was one of my favorites on the trip. Be aware that there’s a charge for guarded parking at many of the beaches, but it’s usually not much, and worth the security.
I absolutely love to kayak, but living in New York City, we rarely get the chance to take to the water for hours at a time. So I knew I definitely wanted to find a place to kayak while in Puntarenas, and the caretaker at Diquis was able to arrange a place for us to kayak further down the coast. We kayaked through the mangrove, watching spider monkeys play overhead, and keeping an eye out for the caimans and crocodiles lurking on the shore. I’d highly recommend a kayak trip while in Costa Rica: besides our rainforest hike, it was the time we were able to see the most wildlife and spend several hours immersed in the unique natural habitat the country has to offer.
After leaving Puntarenas, we drove back towards the capital to spend several days at the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San José in Heredia. The hotel features Spanish colonial architecture and is built on a 30-acre coffee plantation, and was a great place to spend some time and see the sites of San José and the surrounding Central Highlands. We spent a day in San José, where we didn’t find much to do, it’s true, but did love the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which houses gold artifacts, descriptions and depictions of Pre-Columbian life, and contemporary art, historical context, and commentary about Costa Rica’s present and past.
We also spent a day seeing the Central Highlands with a tour booked through the Marriott, stopping by one of the region’s many fertile coffee fields before driving high into the mountains to visit the Poas Volcano National Park. The view of the volcano varies depending on the weather, and mostly we just glimpsed a smoky chasm from which a Kaiju seemed ready to emerge (we also caught a viewing of Pacific Rim on our hotel TV, which may explain why that particular image came to mind for me). Our next stop was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens & Peace Lodge, where we got a chance to get a close-up view of some of Costa Rica’s more elusive creatures, including rescued wild cats like ocelots, jaguars, and jaguarundis. I got the chance to let a toucan perch on my arm—they look like adorable, animatronic Disney robots in person—and got the chance to see brilliantly colored butterflies emerging from their cocoons in the Butterfly Observatory. If you want to make sure you get a chance to see a huge variety of Costa Rica’s hummingbirds, tropical frogs and snakes, and simians, La Paz is a great place to check those sights off of your list. Be warned that it’s quite a walk, though, and if you come on a drizzly day, as we did, buying one of the green ponchos from the gift shop is a necessity.
We spent our last three days in Costa Rica back on the Pacific coast at the Marriott Los Sueños Ocean & Golf Resort in Herradura. Los Sueños was the perfect place to close out our trip: we spent our time swimming in the amazing, labyrinthine pool (seriously, it was the coolest pool I’ve ever seen, with interconnected passages and a swim-up bar), chilling out on the beach, and taking advantage of the resort’s excellent restaurants and amenities. Scarlet macaws squawked and swooped over the pool, iguanas hung out lazily on every sun-warmed surface, and the sunsets over the green-blue ocean, which we could watch from our room, were exquisite.
Costa Rica was a terrific choice for a honeymoon, and we’d love to go back and see the regions we didn’t get to visit, although we were able to see much of the relatively small country in two weeks. A trip like this costs several thousand dollars, and our Traveler’s Joy honeymoon fund, along with additional gifts from family, covered our costs entirely. We’re so grateful to all of our friends and family, who made this trip possible and allowed us to do and see things we might not have been able to afford otherwise, and who know how central our love of travel is to our lives. If you’re planning a wedding, definitely skip the blender, and instead plan a trip you’ll remember for the rest of your marriage. Pura vida!