Caption: Villa ruins El Miro hike in Jaco.
By Daniella De Windt
Latin America, here we come! Two inexperienced 23-year-olds, my friend Sofie and I set off on a great backpacking adventure through Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama, to celebrate the completion of our Bachelor degrees. After many months of planning, receiving tips from knowledgeable travellers, discussing which bikinis to bring, and persuading our protective family members, it was finally time to embark on our three-month trip in September 2019.
I will be sharing our adventures and recommendations over the following weeks in The Weekender.
San José was the first stop on our big backpacking adventure. We had been warned by fellow travellers that San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, was the only disappointing place in an otherwise beautiful country.
The populous capital is mostly seen as a gateway to Costa Rica’s travel hotspots as most travellers fly into the Juan Santamaría International Airport before heading to see the beaches, cloud forests, volcanoes and wildlife. However, we had to spend two extra days in the city before moving on to our Spanish-course destination.
Having decided to make the most of it by exploring the town, we stumbled upon the Mercado Centrale, an indoor market that sells everything, from fish to flowers to smoothies to bags to Tupperware containers. After feeding our shopping addiction, we continued on to happy hour at the hostel and reggaeton clubs with our newly-found friends.
We arrived in Jacó, a beach town on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, after a relatively short two-hour drive from San José. The surfer’s paradise would become our new home for the next month as we took a Spanish course to brush up on our non-existent language skills and enjoyed the wide beach, magnificent sunsets, and lively nightlife after class.
We often visited Marea Alta, a local favourite for fish soup, ceviche, or casado (a local dish comprising meat/fish and a variety of side dishes) for some surf class fuel as it is conveniently located across from Surfer Factory, the local surf club.
Jaco Bar is the place to be for a beer and Jenga with the locals, after grabbing a bite and a few drinks at one of the many beachfront bars.
The party moves to the Backyard Bar on Playa Hermosa on Saturdays, where weekly surf competitions are held and ladies drink for free as the sun sets and everyone gathers on the dancefloor.
All those drinks and snacks left us feeling like burning some calories, so we did the El Miro hike – a free 30-minute hike up to two lookout points and the ruins of a colourful unfinished villa. Locals told us that you can often spot parrots, toucans and monkeys in the trees, and although we were not that lucky, we still enjoyed the walk with its beautiful scenery and vibrant graffiti.
Manuel Antonio – one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica – was logically the next destination, as it is only takes an hour and a half by public bus from Jaco.
We arrived at Manuel Antonio around 11:00am – a bit later than originally planned, due to a problem with the chaotic bus schedules – and were immediately surrounded by local guides wanting to show us all the animals “for a very good price”.
We were reluctant because we hadn’t planned on doing a tour. Fortunately, our hesitations were interpreted as haggling, so ultimately we joined Juan’s tour for less than $10 per person, and we were so happy we did! An amazing wildlife spotter, Juan’s senses were so incredible he could find animals that were very small, hidden or far away that we would not have been able to notice ourselves.
I felt like an excited child on a school trip to the zoo. We ended up seeing the cutest sloths, monkeys, a variety of colourful insects, and beautiful toucans, all within a few hours!
To be continued…