So you want to visit Thailand. That’s cool. It’s a great place to travel to. Got your guidebook yet? Have you noticed all those ‘Must see’ destinations, and the ‘Hidden Gems’?
Well guess what. They aren’t so hidden any more.
You can expect that “deserted beach with powder soft white sand and turquoise blue water” to be full of fat Australians with tribal tattoos drinking buckets of watered down expensive alcohol. That “charming little village with smiling locals and cheap phad thai” is now a backpacker slum bursting with tattoo parlors and crazy Germans on scooters, oh and those locals aren’t exactly smiling because of you, though they are pretty happy to see your baht.
Something many people are not familiar with is bartering. In America it’s very rare to barter for any goods or services in a traditional marketplace. Of course things like eBay and Craigslist have changed the way we shop, but for the most part, Americans don’t enter a store and offer half of the advertised price and expect to get away with it. In some countries, that’s exactly what you are expected to do though.
For many travelers there is a certain Mystique that Cuba and in particular Havana holds. The largest Island in the Caribbean is a treasure of Spanish Colonial architecture, breath taking beaches, classic American Cars and being one of the final bastions of communism. Frozen in time is one of the descriptions I use to convey the feeling and emotion of being in Havana. Every where you cast your eyes you cannot be but reminded of being in a place that has changed little since the late fifties.
It never ceases to amaze me how much fear people have about traveling. I’m tempted to just roll my eyes and think, “silly ignorant Americans,” but then I realize I too once shared that fear of traveling. We fear the unknown and for most Americans, the unknown is the rest of the world.
OK, you’ve handed in your notice, packed your bags, said bye to mum, paid off the credit card (well, most of it) and you’re off on your yearlong adventure. Problem is if you are anything like me you’ve spent a little too long in Europe, enjoyed a couple extra flights in lieu of excruciating overnight chicken buses, sampled a few too many brews in Mexico and before you realize it you are not quite half way through your trip and over three quarters through your budget.
I‘ve loved traveling for a handful of years now but it wasn’t until I found myself venturing off the beaten path in Morocco last year when I started to realize the difference between the beaten path, and off the beaten path.
If you read this site semi-regularly you’ll know I talk a lot and recommend having a good guidebook for your travels. Many dedicated travelers frown on it as they want to see a place on their own terms and not how some underpaid guidebook writer tells them to. I see this point, don’t get me wrong, but most of my trips are condensed into two weeks or less and require some assistance with planning. My vacation time is valuable and that’s why I always use a guidebook.
Talk to several different travelers about their travel tips and you probably won’t hear the same answer twice. Everybody has their own preferences and techniques or they don’t bother planning at all. Both sides have their advantages and both have their disadvantages.
Also referred to as canopy tours, zip lining entails putting on a harness and attaching to a series of cables strung throughout the trees. These tours are everywhere throughout Costa Rica and run between $50-100 depending on the location and amount of runs you get. Between 8-12 runs seems to be average. High in both adrenaline and excitement! As scary as it sounds, it’s actually very safe and the most difficult part is usually walking between the cables.
2. Hike a volcano
Costa Rica is littered with volcanoes. Some are active, like the popular Arenal which offers visitors views of red falling lava at night and constant rumbles throughout the day. Most volcanoes are located on federally reserved national park land and offer great hikes with amazing views. The Poás Volcano is a popular day trip from the San Jose area and a big tourist draw.
3. River rafting
With the amount of rainfall Costa Rica receives it’s no surprise that white water rafting is a popular activity. Most rafters set out for Turrialba, about two hours from San Jose where they can ride the Pacuare or the Reventazon for anywhere from four hours to three days.
It’s no secret that Costa Rica is one of the top surf destinations in the world. Surfing legends like Robert August now make their homes in Costa Rica for it’s legendary surf. Breaks like Jaco and Playa Hermosa provide surfers with consistent waves on the Pacific side while Puerto Viejo de Talmanca and many others are great in the Caribbean.
5. Play with monkeys
Who doesn’t love monkeys? They are everywhere in Costa Rica swinging from trees or digging through restaurant’s trash cans (please don’t feed the monkeys). National parks like Manuel Antonio provide great opportunities for hikers to see capuchin monkeys swinging overhead or even sharing the trail with them. Other areas like the Arenal Volcano are filled with Howler monkeys who can nearly deafen nearby visitors with their calls.
6. Watch turtles lay eggs
Turtle lover? Head up to Tortuguero where conservationists are working hard to preserve the endangered turtles who make the beaches their nesting grounds. Only reachable by boat or plane, Tortuguero is a prime example of eco-tourism.
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica, especially if you are interested in animal conservation. Tortuguero, mentioned above, is a wildlife conservationist’s dream.
8. Drink coffee
What better way to start your day than enjoying some Costa Rican coffee. Stop by a grocery store and pick up a bag to take back home. Not only does it taste better than anything you can find back home–it’s a lot cheaper!
9. Climb a waterfall
Climbing and rappelling a waterfall is an extremely fun and exciting activity in Costa Rica. There are tour operators all over the country that offer waterfall rappels, but if you find yourself in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area, give Quepo Canyoning a call as they are the only one (currently) allowing you to climb a waterfall. Believe it or not, going up is actually more exciting than going down!
10. Kayak through mangroves
If you’re looking for something a little slower paced but still plenty of fun, rent a kayak and explore the mangroves. You’ll see wildlife you never imagined.