Written by Natalia N.
When I booked my trip to Costa Rica earlier this Summer, I wondered how I could possibly enjoy a country I had visited so many times. I was sure I would see the same beaches, eat the same food and have the same “Imperial” beer I have had before. But open to anything I said, “Pura Vida!” and off I went to re-discover Costa Rica and myself along the way. I flew from New York City to San José and joined a group of people through TheVacationProject.co who soon became like family.
From the first afternoon on this trip, I knew I was in for a pleasant surprise and this would be no ordinary experience. The Walking Tour of San José took us through familiar sites in the City center I had always overlooked. I learned for instance that the famous City Plaza sits atop one of the most extensive currency museum in Central America and to my dismay, touched a real corck tree for the first time! ( I never knew wine corks came from a real tree).
Walking Tour of San José- Day 1
Our walking tour guide was out of this world and knew how to answer even the most abusrd questions we had!
Walking trough the City Center at night was beautiful, I was elated!... it had only been three hours into the trip.
Esteban, our local guide arranged the most beautiful intimate dinner I ever experienced. Stowed away in a small street of San José, chef Luis Protti has managed to create an atmosphere of amazing energy and even better food. Buchón has no sign and unless you know where you are going, you are likely to miss the place.
At our table in a private area of the restaurant, awaited a five course meal and endless bottles of red and white wine. To take us deeper into our extasis of joy, Esteban had arranged for members of “Un Rojo Reggae Band” to perform and hang out with us while we devoured what Chef Protti brought out every ten minutes. Kumary Sawyers’s voice was angelical as she sang Marley classics, Sade and some of her original songs.
Fastfoward to the end of the dinner and we were having a home-made vegan chocolate cake to celebrate one of The Vacation Project founders’ birthday, this too, Esteban had accounted for!
We ended the night dancing away at Barrio La California at La Concha de La Lora bar, a dembow and reggaeton palace brimming with young Costa Ricans and amazing drinks. After a couple of laps around the dance floor, we went back to our hotel, Selina Hostel.
Selina Hostel is a take on the new meshed with the old; nothing about the furniture and the decoration goes with each other, and yet everything goes well together. I loved every corner of it and felt that my imagination came alive as I turned into every hall.
The Beach and Beyond
On the second to seventh days of the trip we retreated into the quiet and less explored parts of Costa Rica, exactly what I was waiting for. We ventured first to the beach and then the rainforest to explore the charm of rural Costa Rica like I had never done before. We first stopped at Uvita where we walked through the beach to see the Whale’s Tail and some of us took surfing lessons. There too, Esteban prepared a pleasant surprise and a super fun dinner at Fuego Brewery in Dominical. Yes, a brewery in the jungle and on the beach!
After a couple of amazing heffeweissen and coffee porters we headed back to Uvita and sat on the beach listening to the waves crash against each other as we shared stories about darkness and the ocean… because you guessed it, no one was paying attention to their phones.
Beauties and Beasts
Osa Peninsula was by far the most memorable part of the trip. The Peninsula is a remote area about five hours away from San José, nearing the southern border with Panamá. Not many people venture here, not unless you’re a scientist, marine biologist or if you are looking for more, like we were! We lodged in a secluded hilltop in the jungle and worked directly with Osa Conservation who coordinated two and half days full of rewarding work. From the first day we felt like we were part of the cast of Jurassic Park. The sounds were so pure, the sky was full of exotic birds, insects, and at least four species of monkeys flying from tree to tree. The morning mist was refreshing and nothing like I had ever breathed before. Standing in the jungle I felt connected to nature, I felt that the world and I were one. I stood next to those trees that have been there for hundreds of years, walked on the rivers that have flowed for thousands more, and walked on a beach filled with millions of years of history hidden in this virgin part of the world.
Reforestation of the rainforest
Once at Osa, we helped with beach clean-up where we picked up a least two hundred plastic bottles and trash, not from people in Costa Rica but from other parts of the world across the Pacific. The trash ends up there and is eaten by sea turtles and other wild animals who confuse the plastic and garbage with food (since coming back, my boyfriend and I have significantly reduced our plastic consumption). We were astounded to see the amount of intact Styrofoam and soda bottles that washed up on the beach and could potentially kill hundreds of animals.
We also helped with reforestation efforts by planting at least two hundred trees of different species in very muddy and humid rainforest terrain. But that wasn’t all.
Perhaps the part I will tell my grandchildren about is the sea turtle patrol. On our last day, we woke up before dawn, walked about thirty minutes in the middle of the rain forest. As we walked, the birds were waking up along with the howler monkeys who for a while escorted us through the paths as they swung from tree to tree. At 5:30am sharp, our morning patrol started. We found nests of sea turtles and helped release them into the ocean, we learned about the process of eggs hatching and re-nesting in nurseries to protect the eggs from both human and wild predators. Later that day, we headed back to beach patrol well after sunset.
We walked again, in the rainforest in the dark and through rain. To say I was scared would be an understatement, I’m a city girl, I grew up in Queens and have lived in NY most of my life. I never owned a head lamp or hiking boots (I still don’t). I was completely out of my element, but I felt alive, and so brave to be there, among nature. Our trek through the rainy muddy path was well rewarded. Within 5 minutes of walking onto the beach we saw our first sea turtle. She was an Olive turtle, about 6 years old. She was laying her eggs, in a trance, without noticing us or aware that we were there. We had to however, keep quiet, and use red lights to avoid disturbing her and to respect the process. We tagged her and moved on. I didn’t think the night could get better. But it did.
While we left the first turtle we started talking in whispers to see if we could find more.
When we started walking we saw a huge shadow emerge from the waves. We all stood in awe and waited for her to make her way up the beach. She took a while to find her spot and once she found it she began digging. She dug, and dug, and dug for about twenty minutes. Once she dug her nest, her eyes rolled back, her mouth opened and she began laying her eggs. The whole process took about forty-five minutes and she was not done. While she finished laying her eggs we tagged her and counted the ridges on her back. Soon after, she began dancing. She circled around her nest until we could see it no more. Then, she turned around, looked into the brightest spot in the desolate beach and walked to the water until she disappeared into the waves. I have traveled (almost) all over the world and I had never felt what I felt then, just happy to be alive!
Why I chose The Vacation Project
This experience and this initiative is for those travelers who seek more. It is for people who travel alone, in couples or in groups; it is also for women who travel sola without inhibitions and who want to make a positive impact on the places we visit. Beyond the cool selfie, touching a pyramid from the top or holding the Eiffel tower in your hand, this kind of vacation is really for those seeking to travel. I recommend it for Sola travelers because even though you may travel on your own, you are never alone. The founders have done an amazing job curating the experience and are flexible enough to accommodate your comfort level every step of the way.
I will be traveling with them again soon, in December we will head to Marakesh and the Atlas Mountains to bring in the New Year in Morocco and I’ve already made my deposit!
Thank you to our friends over at Sola Travelers for letting us share Natalia's story!