You may remember the save the date photos I did for my friends a couple months ago. Well the date finally arrived and I was lucky enough to celebrate their wedding with them in Costa Rica just last week.
UUUUUUUUURRRRRRGGGGGG you know that feeling where you’ve waited too long to book and then flights are a billion dollars? Ya.. that’s what happened with all the direct flights to Costa rica. Indirect flights were about half the price so I took it as an opportunity to book a longer overnight layover to do a bit of exploring. That’s how I found myself in Panama City for 18 hours. My family and friends were slightly horrified that I was going to be in this “dangerous” city by myself. Of course there are bad neighbourhoods (just like in any city) and I would recommend that a single girl be cautious and aware of her surroundings, but the culture and personality of Panama city is definitely worth experiencing.
I was mentioning that I wasn’t sure how to get to the hostel from the airport and a coworker told me that she had some family in Panama and offered to have her cousin pick me up. He was so friendly and sweet that it put me in great spirits after having to wait for almost 2 hours to get through customs, immigration, and baggage. When I got to the Los Mastros hostel, I was told that the water was shut off in the city for the day. Apparently since it’s still a developing country, due to construction and maintenance, sometimes they just have to shut off the water. WWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAATTT?!?!?!?!? Some hotels and restaurants will have a special reserve so you can still use the washrooms. The little $15/night hostel I stayed at though wasn’t quite so fancy. We had to carry a bucket full of water up the stairs in order to flush the toilet. This brought me back to my adventures in Vietnam.
I was still in my Canadian winter clothes and there was nothing I wanted to do more than get out of my sweats and hop into the shower, but I settled on wiping down my face with a wet nap and throwing on a dress. I was excited to get out and explore the city, and luckily for me, I met a friendly American at the hostel. He was actually going to meet a friend who lived in Panama so I tagged along.
We hopped into a cab and went to what felt like a sketchy area and stopped at this little microbrew. I was absolutely exhausted at this point but within 15 mins of sitting on the patio, I looked around and quickly remembered why I love traveling so much. There I was, on a patio with two fascinating people that I didn’t even know existed until 30 mins ago, chowing down on some seriously delicious pizza and craft beer at La Rana Dorada and having my new friends give me a lesson on mining for Bitcoins, with the sun starting to set in the background. The unpredictability of what was to come, and being in a place that was so new and different, yet feeling so comfortable is what drives my desire to keep exploring. Everything about that moment was just perfect.
We ended up bar hopping and checking out a few of the different hot spots in the area. The rest of the night will be left out as my poor mother reads my blog and I think she may be better off not knowing about my shenanigans. Don’t worry mom! I’m sure I didn’t do anything that dad wouldn’t have done at my age!
I didn’t take many photos in Panama but here are a few from the night.
Then early in the morning (6:30am!! Why do I do this to myself?!), my new friend was nice enough to take me to the airport so I could head to Costa Rica to join my friends.
An hour and a half flight later, I landed in Liberia airport and hopped onto a shuttle courtesy of the bride and Xplore Costa rica, and made my way to Tamarindo (which is about an hour away). We stayed at Cala Luna resort. HOLY MOLY this place was nice! It was a stark contrast from the minimalist hostels that I’m used to. As soon as I walked into the lobby, I was greeted with a cool towel, a beautiful cocktail, and a nice lad insisted on taking my backpack for me. I didn’t take any photos of the villas so the following resort photos are from Cala Luna’s website.
Ridiculously luxurious, right?! Now to some of the fun stuff! Excursions!
Marlin Del Rey – Catamaran
As a ‘thank you’ to all the guests, the bride and groom generously treated all of the guests to a catamaran ride on the Marlin del rey. I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for sail boats ever since my summer at The disabled Sailing Club, so I was beyond excited for this excursion. And it DID NOT disappoint! I loved every single thing about the catamaran ride. They picked us up at 2 and drove us out to an island where I got to try snorkelling and paddle boarding for the first time.
And then after we were all pooched from the activities, they made a really delicious buffet style lunch as we sailed around. We did a bit of whale watching, and then headed back to shore as the sun was setting. This was the perfect activity for the wedding guests as people of all ages and risk levels could enjoy it.
Xplore Costa Rica – Super fun day of ziplining, rafting, rapelling, mudbaths, hot springs
The next day, we were all signed up for a full day adventure excursion through Xplore Costa rica. Our day included some ziplining, rapelling, rafting, mudbaths, hot springs, and a buffet style lunch. We were offered a special rate because there were 40+ of us but I think the normal rate is _____. I’m a big chicken with a serious fear of heights and just the thought of that falling feeling in my stomach is enough to make me sick. So I was really weary of going zip lining but after the first line, I can promise you that it’s really not scary! The worst part for me was walking the steps up to each platform. You don’t get that falling feeling at all! Rafting – Since the tide was still pretty low when we went, the rapids weren’t as intense as they can be in the fall. I was paired with one of the experienced rafters so we didn’t get stuck along the way as many of our beginner pairs. This was an excellent workout for your arms.. and if you want to really test out your relationship, you can pair up with your significant other. See how much you guys like each other after yelling at each other about your inabilities to steer.. and accidentally (maybe intentionally?) hitting it other in the head with the paddle over and over… The only downside with pairing up with one of the workers is that you constantly have to stop to help dislodge other less experienced paddlers from the rocks and bushes. My arms were really tired after the zip lining and rafting so I opted out of the rappelling since once you repel down, you have to be able to climb back up. I have the upper body strength of a 6 month old and didn’t have the confidence that I would make it back up. Is it just me or does the term mud bath imply laying in some kind of bath tub filled with mud? I guess for sanitary reasons.. a mud bath actually meant someone was going to paint mud all over your body, and then you hang out in the sun until it dries and then you can hop into the river to wash it all off. How awesome is it to swim in a place like this?!
Then you can hop over to one of the hot springs and let your muscles relax after a long day of activities.
The next day, a bunch of people went horseback riding, but after my 2 hour ride in Calgary, I think maybe I’m done with horses. Instead, I went to town to try and find some surf lessons. Most places range from 30-40 for a group lesson. I’ve also heard a bunch of people grab really cheap lessons by walking along the beach and just asking some locals. I decided to get a private lesson for $35. This included a 2 hour lesson, the board, and a rash guard (which is really just a thick shirt). I think having a private lesson helped me learn a lot faster.
We spent about 15 minutes on land practicing jumping up on the board before he decided I was ready to hop in the water. (OMG was he serious?!) I was able to semi stand up for half a millisecond on my third try but once you’re able to stand up, you kind of get a feeling for what you’re supposed to do. I think the hardest part of the whole thing was being able to get the timing right. I opted to go surfing the day before the wedding and ended up with a couple of bruises on my arms and legs. I also got bumped in the head a few times so if you’re a bride, I probably would hold off on the surfing until after the wedding photos. The awesome part is that renting a board for a full day is only 10 bucks so on Saturday once everyone left, I rented a board again and just hung out in the water by myself for a few hours.
Due to a bit of a mix up with the schedule, I ended up staying an extra day once the rest of the wedding guests left. I opted to save some money and moved out of the beautiful Cala Luna and settled into Blue Trailz Surf Hostel. This was a cute little hostel with a kitchen, air conditioning, and warm water. For 15 bucks a night, I couldn’t complain.
A few tips
Most places will take American dollers
It costs 29 US dollers to leave Costa rica. You have to pay this departing tax at the airport. Make sure you have cash as they take credit card charges as a cash advance.
If you’re craving snacks, try some of their local brands instead of some of the bigger north American brands that you’re familiar with. A can of Pringles or a bag of doritos can cost anywhere from 4-6 dollars, but a bag of plantain chips is only 1 doller.