My trip to Costa Rica with Common Ground International was the most amazing experience of my life. First, we visited Parque Nacional de Manuel Antonio, the national park of Costa Rica. The gates (only a block from our hotel) open unto a rainforest. We saw monkeys, sloths, snakes, birds and more.
There are beaches within the park itself to swim at, but leave someone with your stuff, as raccoons and monkeys are known thieves. I would advise you to hire a certified guide in the town, because the park does hold many natural dangers, such as aforementioned snakes and poison frogs.
Later on, we visited a small town and stayed with host families for a week. During this week we attended ELEC, a Spanish school which focuses on experiential learning. Staying with a Costa Rican family was a powerful experience in fully learning and enjoying a foreign culture. Too often do we travel to another country and stay in our own country mentally. In doing that, you might as well have not traveled.
We stopped by the tourist hotspot Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro, where they’ve made and beautifully painted the largest working ox cart completely by hand. You can tour the establishment to learn how they make these carts, using a revolutionary method for the wheel. This is a great place to buy hand made gifts for your family back home.
Another large part of the trip was our zip lining experience. It is another must do when traveling to Costa Rica. If you’re scared of heights like I am, you can go “taxi”; strapped to a guide. In this way, you don’t need to worry about stepping off or about stopping. You can just enjoy the ride.
We also stayed at Volcán Arenal in La Fortuna. It was very foggy during the stay so we were unable to see the volcano, but the area is beautiful. There are many great gift shops in La Fortuna, perfect for souvenir shopping, along with a fabulous chocolate shop there, where they make the chocolate by hand. You can go on a tour of the store and watch the process.
Also in La Fortuna, is Baldi, the hot springs resort. The water is heated naturally by the volcano itself. There are pools of all different temperatures, including cold, as well as water slides and massages.
The main advice I have for those traveling to Costa Rica is that it is not as hot as you think it is during the rainy season, which is our summer. True, it is a tropical country, but it rains very often. Have a jacket with you just in case you get caught in a downpour.
Another piece of advice I have is to exchange your dollars for colones in the states. Have some dollars with you, but having colones is far more convenient in Costa Rica. Many places, especially the touristy places will accept dollars, but using colones is easier for them and more polite. How would you like it if visitors from other countries tried to use their money here?
In addition, I would ask those traveling to Costa Rica to please at least attempt to speak Spanish. Many in Costa Rica do speak English, but it is rude to assume so, and as you are in another country, you should try to experience the language and culture as much as you can, instead of pretending you are in a tropical part of the US. If you do that, you might as well have gone to Florida instead.