We’ve talked about where we stayed, how we got to Costa Rica, how we paid for the trip and how we got around once we were there. Now it’s time to share what made our vacation to Costa Rica so much fun. The activities we did and what we ate! Sometimes I talk about food all on its own, but we pretty much ate our way through Guanacaste province, so food belongs here.
During the planning stages, I had grand plans to hike in national parks, visit volcanoes and walk under waterfalls. Once we arrived in Costa Rica, none of that happened. All of us wanted to relax in the sunshine and warmth. Mr. Vine liked to sleep in and I liked to work in the mornings. Because it got so hot so quickly, any hiking or active excursions needed to happen early in the morning. We also did not want to be too far from shade, air conditioning and water. Compounding the challenge, we learned that the closest national park to us, a volcano, had closed several trails due to a small eruption. Sticking close to our hotels and towns made for a relaxing vacation, which was just what we needed.
One of our first stops after our hotel check in was a grocery store. Our research told us that beer would be cheaper there than hotels and bars. We also wanted to pick up some snacks and fruit for times when we didn’t need a full meal. The tropical fruit was amazing! The prices were so low and the fruit looked so delicious, we even bought a knife so that we could cut a pineapple and a few mangoes. Chopping a whole pineapple and mango on a hotel bathroom counter was a first for me! These fruits were among the best I’ve ever had, in addition to the bananas we enjoyed. We also stocked up on some local beer, Imperial. It is a classic lager, perfect for drinking on the beach or by the pool.
By this time, I realized I’d forgotten to pack running shoes. We went downtown following our grocery stop in search of a place to buy a replacement pair. We found a few stores but it was difficult to tell whether the shoes were authentic or not. I didn’t mind buying a pair of knock-offs, but didn’t want to pay full price for them. We were shopping near closing time and I wasn’t able to communicate my desire for a different size to the clerk (or no other sizes were available beyond what was displayed). We gave up and decided to try again the next day.
The first night we ate at a steakhouse recommended by our hotel concierge. It was located in downtown Liberia. We ordered a sampler platter that included several cuts of steak, some sausages and sides like rice and tortillas. We washed all of that down with a couple of rounds of Imperial. It was the perfect way to round out our first day in Liberia.
On the second morning, my first priority was picking up a pair of running shoes. I’d tried a barefoot run on the hotel’s treadmill the night before and that was not a fun experience. I found something serviceable and inexpensive at a discount shoe store, similar to a Payless. We got ready to check out and head to our resort. This process was very leisurely as we had plenty of time.
We stopped for brunch at another place recommended by the Hilton Garden Inn concierge. It was a small, open air restaurant by the main road. The food was what I would call tourist oriented Tico cuisine. It was higher priced, with a larger menu and more full service than a soda. The menu included platters with meat, gallo pinto (beans and rice), and plantains. It is simple food, but delicious and satisfying. We ate our meals and enjoyed a cup of coffee. The day was getting hot, but the shaded palapa of the restaurant and the fans overhead, along with the breeze, felt pleasant.
After our breakfast feast, we were on our way to the sea. Along the way, we had one must stop: a coffee roaster. We’d planned this from the time we settled on Costa Rica.
We visited Tio Leo (twice actually!). This is a small coffee roaster and their shop was conveniently located between Liberia and our resort on the Gulf of Papagayo. This shop also has other souvenirs like wood crafts. I’m not sure how authentic our experience was, but the coffee tasted good. The timing did not work out to go on a tour of the farm, but we enjoyed tasting the coffee and chocolate. We bought a few bags of amazing peaberry coffee. Food is definitely one of our favorite souvenirs. During our time in Costa Rica, I ordered a coffee at almost every opportunity and was never disappointed. Coffee from Costa Rica is very good and the cafe culture in the country is legit.
After buying some coffee, we headed on to the Gulf of Papagayo. We enjoyed driving through the countryside and enjoyed the vistas. One thing I will always remember about Costa Rica is how perfectly blue the sky is there. It sometimes looked unreal in its perfection. Upon arrival at El Mangroove, our room wasn’t quite ready so we dropped our luggage and headed to the bar for a welcome cocktail.
When our room was ready, we quickly changed and got into the pool. The pool at El Mangroove compromised a significant portion of each day’s activities. We often took a dip in the pool twice per day, retreating to our room for a couple of hours during the hottest part of the day.
Most days we ventured off resort for at least one meal. One day, we ate at Alta Marea in nearby Playa Hermosa. The star of this meal was the flan we ordered for dessert. It cost more than an entire lunch plate, but was worth it. We also had fancy coffee drinks here and spent under $20 per person.
Another memorable meal was at a seaside restaurant that served fish and other seafood. Like most of the places in Costa Rica, it was open air, with a palapa and fans. We enjoyed cold beer there, as well. One day we stopped at a roadside soda and had our least expensive meal of the trip. This was a traditional place that served juice with our food. So delicious!
The best meal we had in Costa Rica was at Abbocato. This meal ranks as one of the best we’ve had anywhere in the world. We went here to celebrate Mr. Vine’s birthday. Every moment of our time at Abbocato was special. From our pre-dinner cocktails on the patio while watching a family of monkeys snack on leaves from a nearby tree to our post dinner coffee, we never wanted to leave. The food was impeccably prepared and the hospitality unmatched. It was upscale, but relaxed and unpretentious. If we find ourselves in Costa Rica again, we’ll certainly do our best to return.
Costa Rica was the right mix of amazing food, relaxation, sun and sand. Maybe next time we’ll find time to chase some waterfalls and hike a volcano or two!