Flying into San Jose, Costa Rica

REUNITING WITH COSTA RICA

Well, well, well. Costa Rica, huh?

If you had asked me about traveling to Costa Rica prior to my recent trip I would have told you that I’ve been there, done that and I’m in no rush to get back down there anytime soon.

My first trip to Costa Rica wasn’t terrible, it was just too damn boring to be honest. So boring that I never actually cared to write about it here on Pause The Moment. I should mention that it wasn’t Costa Rica that was boring, I was just being lazy and didn’t want to do anything but lie by the pool all day.

The biggest mistake I made during my first trip to Central America back in 2011 was that I spent three and a half weeks wandering around Nicaragua before making my way over the border into Costa Rica. The mistake wasn’t that I shouldn’t have visited Nicaragua. As a matter of fact I absolutely loved Nicaragua.

It was more about the fact that Nicaragua and Costa Rica are two countries that are very different from one another. In other words, if you only have a short amount of time to travel to Costa Rica or Nicaragua, do yourself a favor and spend your time exploring one country at a time.

WHY I DIDN’T ENJOY COSTA RICA THE FIRST TIME…

There were two main reasons why I liked but didn’t love Costa Rica the first time around.

#1: I crossed the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica after spending three weeks in a country that still has very little tourism running through it. Once I arrived I felt as if I was in another world. Finding people who spoke English in Nicaragua were few and far between, and I really enjoyed the challenge of having to figure things out on my own. Once in Costa Rica, it was overflowing with tourism and every other establishment was either a foreign-operated bar or souvenir shop. Yuck.

#2: I didn’t love Costa Rica was because I chose the wrong place to set up shop for my final few days in Central America. I chose Playa del Coco, or Coco Beach because I was flying out of Costa Rica’s Liberia airport and Coco Beach just happened to be one of the closest beach towns to the airport. Red flag!

Tip: Avoid the touristy beach towns in Costa Rica by staying in a nearby, lesser known town with access to the tourist zones that way you can enjoy some peace of mind and take a short taxi ride to the action if necessary.

To make a long story short, don’t make the same mistakes I did when you visit Costa Rica. Oh, and be sure to dedicate your entire trip to one country (unless you have a couple of months on your hands). Trust me on this!

Okay, enough about my first dismal visit to Costa Rica. Let’s talk about my second and much more exciting trip to Costa Rica, shall we?

Playa Esterillos Este, Costa Rica

WELCOME TO COSTA RICA!

Just two hours west of Costa Rica’s San Jose International Airport lies a town called Playa Esterillos Este which is home to one of the most incredible boutique resorts that I’ve stayed in to date.

Sure, I’ll always have love for the Angler’s in South Beach (video), but I have to admit that my recent stay at the Alma Del Pacifico hotel just completely blew my mind.

After traveling for a total of approximately nine and a half hours from Boston to Miami, Miami to San Jose and San Jose to Playa Esterillos Este, I was pretty exhausted by the time we checked in to the Alma Del Pacifico hotel.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Fernando Alfaro, part owner, GM, and sales director of Alma Del Pacifico. Fernando was upbeat, friendly, and is exactly what the doctor ordered if you’re looking to catch a second wind.

Myself, Estee, and four journalists from several travel related publications chatted briefly over a late dinner at Alma’s on-site restaurant (The Pavillion Restaurant) before calling it a night.

We we’re all looking forward to hitting the hay and getting rested up for what would be an exciting first day in Costa Rica.

Alma Del Pacifico Hotel - Esterillos Este, Costa Rica

Deluxe Ocean View Villa at Alma Del Pacifico

WAKING UP IN PARADISE

The following morning I woke up to the glow of natural light peeping through my bedroom window. I looked around for a few seconds as if I had forgot where I was.

It wasn’t until I stepped out of bed that I realized I was in Costa Rica. Not just in Costa Rica but also that I was living a life of luxury here in one of Alma Del Pacifico’s deluxe ocean view villas.

The vibrant colors that decorate the both the inside and outside of the villas at Alma become even more vivid when the sun hits them.

Surrounded by a wealth of beautiful colors and the birds chirping in the distance, I come to the realization that I’m absolutely mesmerised by this place.

Surfing in Playa Esterillos Este Costa Rica

SURFS UP DUDE!

I’m awake, I’m refreshed, and I’m ready to tackle the first activity of the day. This morning I would be taking part in my second surf lesson and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.

As many of you know, my first surf lesson in Fiji back in December turned out to be more humorous than anything so I was hoping that the second time around would prove to be a little more eventful and at least have some decent sized waves that I could attempt to ride into shore.

After a light breakfast, we made our way to shore to meet up with Brett, our surf instructor and owner of Brett’s Board Rentals here in Costa Rica.

Surf Lessons in Costa Rica

Photo courtesy of Brett’s Board Rentals

A short briefing on land had us prepared for what techniques we would need to utilize once we hit the ocean.

I was one of two people out of the group who had attempted surfing before so I felt as if I knew enough about the fundamentals in order to get out there and try my hand at surfing a few waves.

Surf Lessons in Costa Rica

Photo courtesy of Brett’s Board Rentals

Once everyone was ready to rock, it was time to take care of business. I was on a mission to really get the hang of surfing this time around and I wasn’t messing around. I paddled out to where the waves started to break and got myself into position to take on the next wave coming my way.

As the wave approached, I turned my board towards shore and started to paddle like a bat out of hell. As soon as I felt the wave start to rise beneath me, I went from lying on my stomach to planting my feet on the board in a split second. I was determined to ride this first wave.

Surf Lessons in Costa Rica

Photo courtesy of Brett’s Board Rentals

…And I did! I surfed that wave until I was in knee deep water, gushing with excitement!

The entire group had this boggled look on their faces as I cruised by them like “Wait a second, Didn’t he tell us that he had only tried surfing once before?”

Surf Lessons in Costa Rica

SURFING SUCCESS!

The most exciting part of the morning was the fact that each and every one of us had successfully surfed a few waves by the end of our lesson. Seriously, is there anything better than watching your friends succeed at something you know they’re trying so hard to get the hang of? Seeing everyone smiling from ear to ear as they rode their first ever waves into shore really made my day.

Dinner at El Avion - Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Left to right: Joe Pike, Estee Pinzon, Mandy Berman, Jen O’Brien, Ryan Gargiulo, and Zorianna Kit (bottom)

DINNER & DRINKS AT EL AVION

After an afternoon of basking in the summer sun, we freshened up and headed on over to El Avion, a restaurant located just a half mile from Manuel Antonio National Park. In case you haven’t heard, Manuel Antonio National Park is considered to be one of the most beautiful National Parks in the world according to Forbes magazine.

Upon arriving at El Avion, I was surprised to see that they had integrated an old American C-123 Cargo plane into the restaurant.

Coincidentally enough, there was a really interesting story behind this old American cargo plane. See the story here.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this old US cargo plane is now a full fledged bar! Introducing the “El Avion Cargo Cult Club Bar” also known as the “Contra-Bar”.

Dinner at El Avion - Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Can we all agree that this might be one of the most interesting bars in the world to toss back a few cold ones?

Damas Island Estuary Boat Tour

DAMAS ISLAND ESTUARY

The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn. After a breakfast on the go, it was time to hit the road and make our way over to Damas Island for a short boat cruise through the mangroves of the Damas Island Estuary.

Maybe I’m spoiled when it comes to seeing wildlife after spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park last year, but I was expecting to see a hell of a lot more wildlife in the Damas Island Estuary than we actually saw.

Damas Island Wildlife

Among the wildlife spotted on Damas Island was the Capuchin monkey, also known as “White-faced monkey”, a few blue heron, a colorful crab and a basilisk lizard also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard” due to it’s ability to run on water at speeds of up to 5 feet per second!

While I wasn’t too thrilled with the Damas Island Tour, it did have its cool moments.

I would recommend the Damas Island Estuary tour for families visiting Costa Rica as it gives you an insiders look at just a small percentage of the incredible wildlife that the country has to offer.

Alma Del Pacifico Pool

POOL TIME!

After an early morning boat tour, all I wanted to do was to throw on my shorts and lie by one of the two pools that the Alma Del Pacifico hotel has to offer.

My buddy Joe joined me for what I thought would be a pretty uneventful day by the pool. Turns out we met a couple of older, well-traveled ladies and ended up sharing a boat load of crazy travel stories.

Alma Del Pacifico Deluxe Ocean View Villa

After our poolside travel chat, I headed back to my villa to enjoy what was left of the day. I did a short workout on my patio and took in some of the beautiful tropical scenery from my plunge pool.

The Pavillion Restaurant - Alma Del Pacifico

SUPER BOWL XLVII

We spent our final night at Alma Del Pacifico at the Pavillion Bar watching Super Bowl XLVII, one of the most exciting Super Bowls I’ve seen in years. It was a perfect ending to a short stay at the Alma Del Pacifico hotel.

My second trip to Costa Rica was filled with good food, beautiful accommodations, lots of laughs, new friends, and vivid memories from a trip that now has me yearning for more.