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Trip Report Our Pura Vida Experience - trip report

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My husband, 9 year old son and I returned less than a week ago from our first trip to Costa Rica. We had a wonderful time - so much so that my son cried the last day because he didn't want to come home!

Thanks to some great advice on this forum, we narrowed our itinerary to concentrate on the south coast - specifically, the area around Dominical. We spent our first and last nights in Alajuela, at the Adventure Inn (which we thoroughly enjoyed - great ambience, kind staff, lovely little restaurant and pool, free international calls and internet). We had booked a car through Thrifty, and were met at the airport and taken by shuttle to their office. We had no problems with the car rental whatsoever. The staff were pleasant and efficient, the car behaved perfectly, and there were no hidden costs (of course, I had researched insurance thoroughly beforehand, so was prepared for the various options, as well as the mandatory insurance). Other than the shock of being thrust into what appeared to be a complete free-for-all in rush hour traffic upon leaving the rental car office, the driving wasn't quite as bad as we'd expected. My husband quickly adjusted to the aggressiveness of Costa Rican drivers, and we managed to return the rental car unscathed 9 days later.

After a restful first night at Adventure Inn, we drove to Dominical, stopping at the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocs (taking turns so that one of us was with the car and luggage), then stopped at Carara National Park (where a volunteer security guard watched the car for a small tip). We saw scarlet macaws in the trees near the town of Tarcoles - gorgeous!

The rainforest and coast around Dominical were absolutely beautiful. Scruffy little Dominical isn't much to look at, but it sort of grew on us after a day or so, and the eclectic mix of restaurants, surf shops and odd (in a nice way) assortment of people made our trips into town rather entertaining. Uvita was an easy 15-20 minute drive south of Dominical, and had more amenities. We drove there several times for groceries and visits to the ATM, and on our last day visited La Catarata Uvita Restaurant, which had fantastic food, and access to a lovely waterfall and swimming hole. It was one of the best afternoons we had on our entire trip.

In Dominical, we stayed at Coconut Grove Oceanfront Cottages, in the larger of two beach houses, and felt as though we'd landed smack in the middle of paradise. We awoke every morning to the sound of birds and surf. The nearly deserted beach was a very short walk from our house, and when it was too hot to venture onto the beach we enjoyed the ocean breezes from our huge veranda. I highly recommend this property for anyone interested in self-catering on a reasonable budget.

During our week at Coconut Grove, we visited Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge twice. My husband took the educational canopy tour and said it was wonderful, but my son and I opted for a guided hike that day. Our guide, David, was a young local man with infectious enthusiasm and a great deal of knowledge and passion concerning local flora and fauna. We were fortunate to have a troop of white faced capuchins pass directly in front of (and over!) us on this hike - my son was ecstatic! We also nearly tripped on an adorable armadillo. The little guy was completely oblivious to us, but we were excited to see him. We returned to Hacienda Baru later in the week to walk the nature trails by ourselves, and I was very proud to spot a sloth on my own. He woke up when we whistled, looked at us, and stretched out on his back to finish his nap. Very exciting to see a sloth move :-). On both visits to Hacienda Baru, we enjoyed a very nice lunch and cool breezes at the on-site restaurant.

One morning we took a half-day guided whale/dolphin/snorkeling tour with Bahia Aventuras out of Uvita. Our guide Raymond was fantastic. They combined the tour with a group from Dolphin Tours, but Raymond accompanied us, providing great commentary and taking lots of photos with our camera so we could enjoy the experience. We didn't see whales that day, but we did see dolphins, sea turtles, howler monkeys and lots of seabirds. The snorkeling was fun, but I don't think it compared to what one would see in the Caribbean or Hawaii. Just being on the boat and seeing the incredibly beautiful coastline was a treat for us. Clouded mountains drop sharply right to the beach, with no visible evidence of humans (even though the coastal highway runs through nearby - but it was hidden by the lush rainforest). We took many photos, but the best images are those imprinted in my memory. Breathtaking.

We decided rather spur of the moment to go up to Manuel Antonio National Park one morning, just to see what it was like. We took a guided tour of the park and were so glad we did. We saw a fer-de-lance snake, sloths, howler monkeys, bats, crazy-beautiful insects and spiders, lizards... and learned a lot. The tour ended at Manuel Antonio beach, which my son absolutely loved because of the warm, calm water for swimming. After experiencing the crowds at M.A., though, we were glad to return to our quiet little hideaway at Coconut Grove.

On our last night in Costa Rica, we returned to Adventure Inn, enjoyed a nice meal and warm reception from staff, and slept well. Our flight didn't leave until late afternoon, so we decided to squeeze in a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, about an hour from Alajuela. It started raining as we climbed the mountain road, and we ended up purchasing lovely green ponchos at the gift shop, but we thoroughly enjoyed our brief visit. I would ideally allow at least 3 hours for this attraction, but our two hour visit allowed us to see all of the animal exhibits (which we thought were beautifully done) and hike down the waterfall path to the return shuttle. We made it back to Adventure Inn in time to have Thrifty come pick up our car. I had called the previous day to ask if they'd do this, and they didn't hesitate to say yes - very nice!

Other activities: My husband had a great surf lesson from Sunset Surf in Dominical (Dylan Park - awesome instructor), and also enjoyed an exciting zipline tour with Osa Mountain Canopy Tours near Ojochal.

Food: Fantastic. We didn't have a single bad meal anywhere we went. I could easily live on Costa Rican fare. We loved all of the fresh fruit, and had some of the most beautifully and creatively prepared meals at various restaurants in Dominical, Uvita, and even at Adventure Inn. Loved the food.

Best memory: Too many to mention. But we did get to experience a tropical downpour one night, which apparently was pretty rare for the area in the dry season. The power was out all along the coast (that we could see) for about an hour, and we sat on our veranda in the dark and just absorbed the sound and smell of torrential rain. It was magnificent.

Last, but not least at all: Everywhere we went, people were warm, friendly and gracious. Whether or not they spoke English, Costa Ricans were quick with a smile or a kind gesture. The local expats were also a friendly, relaxed bunch (but who wouldn't be, living where they live?). The only obnoxious people we saw anywhere were, sadly, a few Americans in Manuel Antonio. Sigh.

This trip was a wonderful experience for our entire family, and we were extremely gratified to be able to share this with our son. It was eye-opening to visit a country in which many people don't have a whole lot in terms of material goods, but which is so very blessed in natural beauty and overall graciousness of spirit. Pura vida!

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