The cool thing about living in a tourist destination is that there are always lots of great tours to enjoy. The bad part is when you move on a budget and can’t afford to go on any of them. But so what! Adventure doesn’t always have to mean cramming into a tour van with twenty other sweaty foreigners. Sometimes the best way to find the coolest things are just to hop on a bus and go. Enjoy our advice on what’s cool in Costa Rica, and go explore for yourself.
What’s Cool in Costa Rica
For example, after seeing a picture of a waterfall on Instagram called the Cataratas Llano de Cortes, I looked it up and found out it’s only about 30 miles away from where we live in Playas Del Coco. If you’re in the Guanacaste area, you can easily ask around for the best directions to get there, though it is much quicker journey in a vehicle. We found a few people who were interested in going and hopped on the local bus. An hour and a half later, we were walking down a short path to one of the hugest and most amazing waterfalls I’ve ever seen. The water was warm, there were snacks for sale, and you could even climb behind the waterfall into a cave to relax and enjoy the view.
Our next, and much more intense adventure, came only a couple weeks later when our Tico friend, Eduardo, told us that a baby jaguar had been found with its injured mother on his wife’s family’s property and we could go see it before it was released back into the wild.
Not particularly knowing where we were going, we hopped on several buses with our neighbor and Eduardo until we reached the tiny town of Bijagua in Northern Costa Rica. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful little restaurant where we got to pick out our own fresh tilapia.
Then we stopped for some beer, contemplated renting a horse, and went on about our way to the house we were staying at on a coffee farm right down the street from the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
We spent a night attempting really horrendous Spanish and sleeping in an authentic Tico house where the walls don’t meet the ceiling and people get up for work at 4:00am. It was a beautiful piece of land and the family was extremely welcoming and nice, cooking for us and making us fresh grown coffee from their farm in the morning.
We were told we were taking a short hike through the jungle to see the Blue River, then the nearby Rio Celeste waterfall, then finally to see the baby jaguar. We were picturing an hour hike at most.
We were wrong.
Our Tico guide first took us up some major hills and major mud. I was knee and waste deep in thick bush and was told to step lightly and watch out for snakes. Always comforting.
Then came the jungle. The never ending, steep as hell, slippery ass jungle. Five hours after we left the house, we saw our first sign of human civilization in the form of an actual wooden path where tourists are supposed to walk. It turns out our Tico guide, who managed to maneuver and machete his way through intense jungle with no map or pause for concern, had taken us through miles of restricted and off limits jungle, as the sign confirmed. But I’m really glad he did.
Ten more minutes of walking paved paths and we were at the Blue River, where the water turns a beautiful shade of blue due to chemical reactions from the nearby Volcano. We found a cozy spot to jump in and enjoy the natural hot springs, where warm water meets the cold water of the river. Amazing!
I should mention that I only brought half a bottle of water (hour hike, remember?) and zero food on this surprise restricted jungle tour, and while were soaking our busted muscles in the hot spring a group of tourists stood nearby and snacked on their crackers and looked absolutely full of glee and less of sweat. Damn them.
Then it was back to walking. Oh, the walking. We were told the Rio Celeste Waterfall was down a path of stairs and we were almost at the end of our hike, so we walked the almost 200 steps down the path to one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen.
I actually cried a little bit right after this photo because I thought my legs couldn’t make it up the 200 steps without more water in my body, but I sucked it up and made it out of the jungle alive. Hooray!
We didn’t end up getting to see the baby jaguar due to a broken bridge on the path where it was being kept, but honestly, I think this ended up being way more fun, anyway.
So the next time you’re living (or just traveling) somewhere and can’t afford slash don’t want to afford a $100 guided tour of a national park or waterfall, just do it on your own or make a local friend that’s willing to show you cool stuff you definitely would have missed otherwise. Also remember that Costa Rican men with machetes are way more in shape than you.
That’s what’s cool in Costa Rica, y’all.