Travel Tales

costa rica travel, costa rica, manuel antonio
Manuel Antonio beach

Travel Tales: Costa Rica

July 29, 2008
by Colleen Brondou
When my dear friend and fellow “single gal in San Francisco” left the city to teach English in San Jose, Costa Rica, I was inspired by her independence and sense of adventure. I was also a recently dumped woman. How better to nurse my bruised ego than to visit an old friend and confidante in Costa Rica? I set off, determined to simply lounge on the beach by day and shake my booty by night, goals which turned out to be easily attainable.

Pura Vida

Costa Rica is a bit of an anomaly in Central America. The country is democratic and politically stable, and abolished its military in the 1940s. High education standards and tax incentives have made the country attractive to global software, pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturers, boosting the local economy and providing jobs. The country’s incredible natural beauty—miles and miles of coastline, volcanoes, rivers frothing with whitewater and pristine rainforest canopies—has made Costa Rica a natural choice for tourism.
Is it any wonder that “Pura Vida” (literally, “pure life” or loosely, “this is the life”) is the country’s motto? And could there be a more perfect place for a bitterly scorned woman to convalesce? Visit the official tourism site of Costa Rica for a full introduction to the country, including maps, exchange rates and weather info.

San Jose

Since my friend was teaching full time, I was left to my own devices during the day. Being a slightly depressed dumpee, I passed the days by sleeping till noon, painting my toenails, attempting to read fashion magazines in Spanish and meandering around my friend’s neighborhood, La Uruca. At night, she took me to her local corner bar, Tierra y Mar, where Walter the bartender’s oversize smile recalled a Costa Rican version of Isaac from “The Love Boat.” Walter kept the micheladas (beer and lime juice served in a glass with a salted rim) coming as I cried on my friend’s shoulder. By Friday night, we were both ready for some dancing. El Tobogán had just the right combination of Latin dance music, stiff drinks and handsome young Ticos (that’s the common name for Costa Ricans). Frommer’s does a good job of providing an overview of the nightlife in San Jose.
Based in San Jose, The Tico Times was the first English-language newspaper in Central America. Visit the site to see what’s happening in the city and take a look at the photo galleries for a glimpse of the country and its people, animals and nature. If you’re planning to stay in Costa Rica for the long term, browse the classified ads for an apartment. Pick up a copy of the print edition for even more information.


What better way to mend a broken heart than with chocolate, and loads of it? That’s what I thought until I met cajeta. Cajeta is a confection found in many Central American pastries, cookies and desserts. Similar to dulce de leche, it’s made from slowly simmered goat’s milk and sugar. Mega Super, the not-so-super grocery store across the highway from my friend’s apartment, sold a custardy yogurt laced with cajeta that became my daily indulgence. Learn more about cajeta and get a recipe for crepes with cajeta at World On A Plate, a food blog. offers an excellent overview of Costa Rican cuisine.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Iguana in Manuel Antonio park
But woman cannot live on micheladas and cajeta alone. It was time to hop a bus for the Pacific Coast and head to Manuel Antonio National Park for a taste of nature. Manuel Antonio is a popular spot for its combination of white sand beaches with luxuriant forest rife with wildlife. My guidebook said to keep an eye out for monkeys, iguanas and sloths. And my vigilance paid off: as we strolled through the forest with our beach towels, we spotted two large, elderly German ladies (in smallish bathing suits) trying to feed a banana to a very large iguana. When the iguana ignored the banana and instead charged the ladies (who shrieked in horror), I laughed out loud—and it felt good.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo beach
After bussing it back to San Jose, I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I hopped another bus to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo is known as a very laidback surfer town that caters to tourists. What I didn’t know before I arrived was how much the culture here had been influenced by Jamaican immigrants; the food and music are distinct from the rest of the country. Puerto Viejo Eats provides a photo gallery of one man’s favorite places to chow. For a nice rundown of places to stay plotted on a satellite map, see Puerto Viejo Satellite. And surfers won’t want to miss Surfing in Puerto Viejo, which offers the inside scoop on the best breaks.
Nursing a shattered ego made it difficult to be a proper tourist. “Shouldn’t I be whitewater rafting or bungee jumping from tree canopies?” I thought as I alternated from beach chair to hammock to bar stool. After several days of being a sloth in Puerto Viejo, I finally saw one! A three-toed sloth, that is. It looked like an exhausted, furry version of E.T., and defied all principles of movement as it did a slo-mo crawl across the dirt road in front of my hotel. I examined it with pleasure, thinking gratefully that I would have an interesting story to tell when I got home—one that didn’t involve a beach chair, a hammock or a bar stool. In the end, my Rx combo of micheladas, cajeta and a fortuitous sloth sighting on the shores of Costa Rica were the ideal remedy for my broken heart.

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