I always thought that Costa Rica would be a cool place to go someday, but it was never seriously on my radar until I had the opportunity to go and see it for myself. If you are looking for a vacation that is half relaxation and half adventure, Guanacaste is the perfect mix! When I stepped out of my comfort zone, I had a blast and managed to check a few things off my bucket list!
We were dropped off at the RIU Palace and greeted with some sort of tasty tropical juice. Unfortunately we had a rainy and cloudy first day, so we couldn’t hit the pool to pass time until our 3PM check-in. However, we had a nice time exploring the resort and getting a jump on overindulging in all the food and drinks we had access to. When we did get to our room, we found that our third floor suite offered an amazing view of the pool, the mountains, and a little of the beach.
My happy place is a submerged lounge chair. There’s nothing like lying out in the hot sun and reading your book while still staying cool in the water. Serena had never experienced this phenomenon, but she was quickly convinced that it is necessary for a good vacation.
The pools at our resort were laid out very strategically – One for relaxing, one for volleyball, one with the swim-up bar, and two on either side that had enough space for loungers on one end and aerobic classes on the other.
The entertainment staff kept fun activities going all day. They were friendly and would walk around greeting people, but didn’t pressure anyone to get involved if they clearly weren’t interested.
We got great service from the wait staff – even though we were in the pool, they came around like clockwork to keep our drinks full. Gotta love an all-inclusive resort!
The beaches in Costa Rica are very different than the usual white sand people are used to. The beach at our resort was made of dark, volcanic sand, and walking along the shoreline offered incredible views of all the mountains surrounding us.
Serena wanted to get a massage, so we found one of the little huts nearby where local women offered their services. It was only $25 each for a half hour, and because there were no other people around and we got to enjoy our massages with no sound except the crashing waves – very peaceful!
We did book one activity at the resort – a jet-ski tour around the surrounding beaches. Serena is a veteran jet-skier and did most of the driving for us (we shared a jet-ski, so I spent most of the journey holding on to her for dear life). I did drive for about half an hour, and while I’m glad I did it, I don’t think I relaxed or stopped being terrified the whole time. It was worth it to go out and see the surrounding area beyond our resort.
One big highlight of our trip was when we walked down the beach a bit and found the sign for The Monkey Bar restaurant. We turned and walked down the path, past the restaurant, and over to an area that we had heard was teeming with monkeys. I expected to have to look way up in the trees to find them, but they approached us like little dogs!
A local woman showed up with a bag of bananas and gave us a few to feed to them. They came right up and took them out of our hands!
We booked our two big excursions before we left home, and used Swiss Travel, the company that works with Apple Vacations and the resort. I really liked this company because they turned every bus ride into a lesson. As we drove, a guide told us about the culture, the area, traditions and legends, and what we had in store for us. It made the long rides fly by.
The first one we took was the “Mega Combo” at the Buena Vista Mountain Lodge, which was comprised of four parts: Zip-lining, a waterslide through the jungle, horseback riding and then a mud bath/hot spring experience.
The zip-line was fun, but it was more about the scenery than the adrenaline. It was good for us because Serena had never zip-lined before, and this level of difficulty was a happy medium between stupidly easy and overly challenging.
The waterslide through the jungle was a rush! It’s tricky because you have to walk all the way up the trail to get to the start of the slide, and ladies in bathing suits get to wear an oh-so-flattering “leather diaper” to go down the slide.
Once you get over that awkwardness, however, you shoot down the slide, propelled by the water that is built up behind you by a dam that is raised and lowered between riders.
After a break for lunch, we got up on our horses and took a trek through the jungle to the hot springs.
We slathered volcanic mud all over ourselves and sat for 15 minutes until it dried. We rinsed it off and then went and sat in 3 or 4 different pools of varying temperatures. It was nice to end with this and not spend the return bus ride covered in sweat and dirt.
Our second excursion was whitewater rafting. We were bussed into the park, and then rode a little truck to the launch point. I was getting more and more nervous as we were given the safety instructions about how to avoid breaking limbs when you go overboard. *Gulp*
We were told that there would be four people plus one guide in each raft. I watched as other couples paired up and immediately regretted not chatting with others on the bus and building a solid team.
We ended up being the lucky ones. It was only the two of us in our raft, and we went last. Our guide, Chuta, was a goofy guy who referred to us as “Leevey” and “Sabrina.” He pointed out wildlife and interesting plants and trees as we went, and at one point he even stopped and went back a bit to see if we could spot some monkeys in the trees.
At one point he asked us if we wanted to see a waterfall, and pulled over so we could take a little hike to a secluded waterfall in the jungle. We jumped into the pool at the base of the waterfall and paddled around for a bit before heading back to the raft.
The climax of the journey was going over a 12 foot drop in the rapids. We both got down in the raft and held on to the safely rope, and down we went! I thought for sure we went overboard, as I was completely submerged in the water at one point, but our raft came back up and we were all safe and sound.
In hindsight, I should’ve been more frightened, but I thought that there was no way we would actually be dumped from our raft. Then, as we ate our lunch at a little restaurant and they showed us the pictures they took, I saw the three or four rafts ahead of us that capsized and threw their riders… I'd like to think that it was my expert paddling that kept us afloat.
If you are interested in traveling to Costa Rica, we have many consultants who have personally traveled there and have their own stories to tell!
Brentwood Travel Vacation Experts
Serving Greater St. Louis since 1957, we specialize in cruises, all-inclusive vacations, tour packages, honeymoons, and group travel.