Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 29-year-old who works in international freight forwarding stays at an all-inclusive resort and looks for iguanas with her boyfriend in Costa Rica.
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Occupation: International Freight Forwarding
Salary: About $55,000. I get paid hourly due to industry standards and I get an amount of overtime during peak season. Monthly incentives that vary.
Annual Number Of Vacation Days: After 6+ years at my company, I have a total of 145 hours to use for vacation, personal time, sick time, etc.
Location: Chicago, IL
Trip Location: Guanacaste Providence, Costa Rica
Trip Length: 9 days
Travel Companion: Boyfriend, K
Travel Companion Salary: I don’t know the exact amount as we don’t discuss salary but it’s over $100,000.00
Travel Companion Number of Vacation Days: Unlimited
Costs: We booked our trip – airfare and all-inclusive hotel – through BookIt.com. We made sure to include the airport transfers to and from the hotel and airport in our booking as we didn’t want to have to worry about this upon arriving into Costa Rica. Due to the departure time of our flight from Chicago’s ORD, we will take an Uber/Lyft to the airport. And due to arrival time back to ORD, we will take an Uber/Lyft home from the airport.
We are set to fly from ORD to Miami and from Miami to Liberia, Costa Rica. On the way back, we flew from Liberia to Dallas to Chicago. Tickets cost $525.98 each, roundtrip. Airport transfer to and from the hotel cost $50 each.
Costs: We stayed at Hotel Riu Guanacaste in the Guanacaste Province in Sardinal de Carrillo. Our all-inclusive resort included food, drinks, and gratuity at $216.98 a night each. To total for a room for both of us for eight nights is $1,735.12. Since we booked our flights and hotels through BookIt our service fees and taxes were grouped together and it was $303.52 for everything.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
- Travel size items from Target (micellar cleansing water, OGX shampoo and conditioner, Batiste Dry Shampoo, Nivea Lotion, Neutrogena face wipes, Covergirl mascara, Yes to Tomato Charcoal Scrub stick): $35.04
- Jean shorts and flip flops from Forever21: $28.92
- Catamaran Sail & Snorkeling adventure through Bill Beard’s company for two people: $150
- ATV tour booked through Bill Beard’s company for two people: $170.00
Miscellaneous post-vacation spending:
Dog & cat sitter for nine days: $280 per pet. We split this in half since the dog is technically J’s and the cat is technically mine. We paid to have our sitter stay in our place the entire time we were gone to take care of them both.
2:30 a.m. (CDT) – We set our alarms for 2:30 a.m. and roll out of bed like zombies. I certainly could use some more sleep but I’m so excited to start our trip! After getting dressed, taking out the dog, and packing up the remainder of our things, we book a Lyft and head to ORD. K pays for the Lyft. $35.75
3:30 a.m. – We arrive at the airport, go through TSA, and make our way to our gate. I stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and grab a coffee. $2.78
5:30 a.m. – After boarding the plane and settling into our seats, we’re off on our first flight to our connection in Miami. After trying to sleep a little bit, I realize that’s not going to happen and opt instead to watch a movie via the American Airlines app.
11:05 a.m. (EST) – After landing in Miami, getting off the plane, eating some snacks of RX Bar’s and Cutie’s we brought with us, we re-board the final leg of our trip from Miami to the Liberia airport in Costa Rica.
12:15 p.m. (CST) – We made it to Costa Rica! After stepping off the plane, I immediately realize I need to change out of my joggers and hoodie and into shorts and a tank top. Before we stop in the bathroom, we make our way through customs. This is by far the quickest line and process I’ve ever gone through when traveling out of the country. So we breeze through customs, find a bathroom to change, and then make our way outside of the airport to where the shuttle service is waiting. We find a gentleman holding a sign with our names on it and he immediately greets us and takes us to the van. While driving from the Liberia airport to our hotel, he tells us a lot about the sites we’re seeing on our drive. He explains that Costa Rica is at the very end of their dry season so we’ll see a lot of dry/dead grass and plants along the coast.
1:30 p.m. – We make it to the resort (Hotel Riu Guanacaste) and tip our driver $5. We can’t technically check into our room until 3:00 p.m. but we’re able to go through the check in process and are told to come back to the front desk at 3:00 p.m. to get the keys to our room. We find a bathroom, change into our bathing suits, leave our bags with the front desk, and go explore the resort! We decide to grab some lunch at the open air buffet by the pool because we’re starving from barely eating during our travels. After lunch, we have a celebratory drink at the pool bar and enjoy the 103 degree weather while we wait until 3 p.m. $5.00
3:00 p.m. – We make our way back to the front desk, get the keys to our room, and go check it out. When booking trips, we truly never care about what our room looks like, what floor it’s on, what view we have, etc. We’re not paying to stay in the room, we’re paying to visit and see the country. So our room is on the bottom floor (just how we like it) with a garden view. This is certainly our preference as it makes getting to and from the room, pool, lobby, restaurants so much easier than having to take the stairs or elevator every time.
4:00 p.m. – After dropping off our bags and doing a quick refresh, we head back to the pool. Since it’s so late in the day, we have a few more drinks while waiting for the dinner buffet to open.
6:00 p.m. – We are starving, again, and make our way to the big dinner buffet. The buffet is huge with endless possibilities to choose from. We ate scrambled eggs with cheese, fresh fruit, sausage, some bacon (of course), and sipped on fresh-squeezed orange and pineapple juice! After stuffing our bellies, we both realize how tired we are so we head back to the room, relax for a little bit and are asleep by 8:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $43.53
6:00 a.m. – We wake up bright and early after a well-rested night and decide to try and stick to our workout regime and head over to the resort gym. We get in an hour workout, take quick showers, and head to the breakfast buffet. We try some of the local Costa Rica foods but aren't too wild about them. Our typical American diets have us brainwashed. So we stuck with the same as yesterday – eggs, fresh fruit, some sausage, and bacon. K found the plantains they offer and ate far too many!
9:00 a.m. – After breakfast, we go back to the room to change into our bathing suits. We head down to the beach, get some lounge chairs, and park ourselves right in the sunshine! After liberally applying SPF, we relax in the warmth and talk about the things we have planned for the week.
12:00 p.m. – After lounging in the sun and getting a little burnt, we make our way to the lunch buffet and eat. We keep hearing people talk about Playa del Coco so we Google it while being connected to the resort WiFi and see that it’s not too far from our resort. After lunch we stop at the front desk to ask if we can catch a taxi there to find out the resort has its own shuttle system. The next shuttle was leaving at 2 p.m. so we quickly run back to our room, change, grab our money, and buy two round trip shuttle tickets. $30
2:30 p.m. – We jump off the shuttle and start to explore Playa del Coco. It’s a cute little tourist town with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. We stop at Coconutz Sports Bar and have some drinks. They have an in-house brewery so we try their beer (Angry Goats Brewing). It’s really good! ($21.43). We then make our way down to the ocean and check out the beach. There are a lot of locals around and it’s so inviting. We wander around a few shops but don’t buy anything as neither of us care for trinkets or vacation T-shirts. I stop into a coffee shop and purchase an iced coffee ($3.25). Hands down one of the best I’ve ever had! K decides he wants a milkshake so we find a cute little shop called Fifties and he gets a chocolate shake. It is really good but it doesn’t beat Shake Shake ($4.50). $29.18
4:30 p.m. – The shuttle bus runs every two hours so at 4:30 p.m., we decide we've had enough of Playa del Coco and hop on the bus back to our resort.
6:00 p.m. – After relaxing in the room for a little while we decide to try out one of the hotel restaurants and choose the Italian-style one. We have to wait until 7:30 p.m., so we sit in the ‘lounge’ area and listen to some live music.
7:30 p.m. – We head back over to the Italian restaurant when our buzzer goes off and enjoy dinner.
9:00 p.m. – Every night from 9:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. there is an entertainment show. Since we went to bed so early the night before, we decide to hang out and see what it is like. It is definitely entertaining with some highly-talented dancers. The theme of the night was Grease, so the cast dressed up as the main characters and danced on the main stage to scenes from the movie. Grease is an iconic movie so of course I sang along to every song and embarrassed K!
10:00 p.m. - After the show is over we sit outside enjoying the evening for a little while before heading back to our room and getting some sleep.
Daily Total: $59.18
6:00 a.m. – K’s alarm goes off and we both decide that we’re going to sleep a little longer and pass on working out.
7:30 a.m. – K’s alarm goes off and we finally decide to roll out of bed. We head to breakfast and eat. We have nothing planned for today so we decide to do another beach day. After we’re done eating, we head back to the room, change into our bathing suits, and make our way down to the beach. The sky today is much clearer than yesterday (it was a little overcast) and we can truly see how blue and clear the water is. There are little fish swimming in the water everywhere and they’re so neat to see.
12:00 p.m. – After hours of swimming in the ocean and laying in the sun, we head to the lunch buffet by the pool for some lunch.
1:00 p.m. – After lunch we make our way to the lobby to see what kind of excursions are offered through the vendors that have tables set up. We have 2 things planned for the week but wanted to add something else. After talking with a representative for Nexus Tours, we decide on a “Sweet Rain Forest” tour. They were fully booked for Monday so we decided on Thursday (since our other excursions are on Tuesday & Wednesday). I put it on my credit card since I’ll get the points for it and K agrees to Venmo me his half when we get home. $240.00
3:00 p.m. – We head back to the beach but grab some chairs in the shade (time to give the skin a break from the sun) and enjoy the afternoon of warmth and relaxation!
6:00 p.m. – We decide to eat at the dinner buffet tonight so we head back to the room, shower, and throw on some casual clothes. The dinner buffet hits the spot again. With so many choices, it’s hard not to eat yourself sick. We tried some fresh fish, pasta (made at a station where you chose the noodle type, sauce, and add-ins), pizza, mixed veggies, and of course had to try almost every dessert offered: little cakes and puddings in cups.
9:00 p.m. – We watch the entertainment show again. Tonight is a Michael Jackson tribute show. With the makeup, lighting, and costumes, it’s a little freaky how much the dancer looks like MJ.
10:30 p.m. – We’re back in the room, relaxing and watching some TV ( Karate Kid is played here a lot), and pass out by 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $240.00
8:00 a.m. – We decided last night to not set an alarm and just wake up when we do (and also decided not to workout again). K is up early because he doesn’t love sleep as much as I do so he leaves the room to wander around and look for iguanas: My boyfriend loves reptiles and grew up with lizards, snakes, spiders, etc. So anytime there's some form of a crawling or slithering reptile around, he's all over it. He'll search for things in the woods and under rocks. I also had a college roommate who took care of her boyfriend’s iguana (in our apartment) for 5-6 months and took an interest in learning more about them. When he gets back, I finally get out of bed and we head over to get breakfast.
10:00 a.m. – Since we have nothing planned again today, we head down to the beach. We snag some chairs in the shade and just relax.
1:00 p.m. – We’re both a little restless from laying around and floating in the water so we decide to take a walk up the beach and see if we can find any monkeys in the trees. We’ve been hearing the Howler monkeys in the morning and want to find them. They have a very deep distinct howl that sounds pretty scary if you don't know it was coming from this tiny fuzzy monkey. We’re unsuccessful in finding Howler monkeys but we find an entire family of White Face monkeys playing in the trees behind a house. There’s a big basin of water and I’m in heaven watching them play and splash around.
2:30 p.m. – After the monkeys swing off into the trees, we walk a little deeper in the forest following signs for “Monkey’s Bar.” We find this adorable little restaurant with outside seating, pool tables, and dollar bills glued to the walls everywhere. We are bummed we didn’t find this place sooner in the week because the food is amazing! K has two Corona’s, I have two Imperial’s (local Costa Rican beer) and we share a fish ceviche appetizer. I have an order of fish sticks with tartar sauce, and K orders an entire whole Red Snapper (which looks terrifying but is so delicious!). $55.00
4:00 p.m. – We make our way back to the resort and head to the room for some cool air in the A.C. With the temperatures being between 95-103 degrees everyday, you’re pretty much constantly sweating when you’re outside. Thankfully though, since it’s the dry season, the air is not humid at all so you don’t really feel like you’re dying that much. I’ll certainly take 103 degrees in Costa Rica over 43 degrees and rain in Chicago!
6:00 p.m. – We have a very similar evening to the one before. But this time we want to try out the Asian restaurant so after showering and getting dressed, we get a buzzer and head to the lounge area to listen to more live music. This is our fourth vacation together at an all inclusive resort, so we're pretty familiar with the routine. With this resort being pretty hidden away in the hills of Costa Rica, there isn't any "nightlife" within walking distance. So we knew that our days would be packed with excursions and things to do but our nights would be more calm and relaxing. We enjoy the ease of the dinner buffet, but in wanting to try the restaurants the resort has to offer, we either have to go to the restaurant of our choice right at 5 p.m. and pick a specific dinner time or wait until whenever we wanted and see how long the wait was. This resort doesn't do reservations ahead of time like others we've been to so that's different but we don't mind. While we are waiting for our dinner buzzer to go off, we enjoy the music entertainment in the bar area.
8:00 p.m. – Because we had such a late lunch, we asked for a dinner spot at 8 p.m. So when our buzzer goes off, we head to the restaurant. The Asian-style restaurant is so delicious and we overstuff ourselves with sushi, noodles, and egg rolls.
9:00 p.m. – We watch the entertainment show for the night and then head to the room when it’s over. Lights out around 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $55.00
7:00 a.m. – We wake up with K’s alarm and take our time getting dressed in some comfortable clothes. Today we are doing a sunset catamaran that we pre-booked online. We don’t have to be in the hotel lobby for the pick up until 12:00 p.m. Since we are going to be in the sun all afternoon and evening, we decide to skip the beach this morning and stay out of the sun. So we walk over to the little shops just outside of our resort to purchase some bug spray. When booking the “Sweet Rain Forest” tour yesterday, the representative informed us that bug repellent would be a good idea if we had some. It didn’t even cross my mind when I was packing to include some bug spray (even though I usually get bit up like crazy!) so I want to find some, if possible. One of the shops has a variety of kinds so I find the least expensive one (it was still $13.00 for a 3 oz bottle!) and purchase that. Next to the store is a coffee shop and the “iced coffee” sign is beaming at me with joy. So I pop inside and order one ($6.00). They’re not lying about the amazing coffee in Costa Rica! $19.00
9:00 a.m. – After we are done at the shops we go back to the room to pack our bag for the catamaran (beach towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, GoPro, cash for tips, hat, etc). After the bag is packed, we make our way over to the breakfast buffet to eat.
12:00 p.m. – After breakfast we stop back in the room to grab our bag and walk to the lobby and find a bench to wait for the catamaran pickup. The shuttle van arrives shortly after 12:00 p.m.
The shuttle van takes us all from our resort to Playa del Coco to board the catamaran. After boarding, we’re off on the tour! The catamaran set sail out of Playa del Coco, and K and I plop ourselves down on top of the netting over top the ocean. We are able to get drinks during this time that range from soda to juice to beer to mixed drinks. We drink a few Imperials and enjoy the sights and breeze. Laying on the netting over the ocean is really neat as we are able to watch schools of jellyfish in the water below. The catamaran sails out around the Pelonas Island and ends up at Playa Potrero. This cove is insanely beautiful. The catamaran set anchor out in the bay so you can either snorkel in the water to see fish/sea life or swim your way into shore (they also provide dinghy's to get back and forth!).
K and I jump off the back of the catamaran and make our way into the beach. There are caves, wild Costa Rican raccoons – coati, and this very steep hill you can climb to see the view of the entire bay. Of course K and I climbed up the hill - in my bikini and barefoot - but oh my word, was it an unreal sight. After climbing back down and swimming in the clear waters, it is time to get back on the catamaran for lunch.
We stay in the bay during lunch, so K and I eat as fast as we can and then spend the next 20 minutes jumping off the back of the catamaran into the water. We try to enjoy ourselves as much as we can. After getting the final signal from the captain, we board and are heading back to Playa del Coco. During the trip back we make some small talk with a couple next to us to find out that they lived in the same town as my dad in Pennsylvania – talk about a small world!
6:00 p.m. – Once over, the catamaran docks back at Playa del Coco, we tip the crew, and we are shuttled back to our resort. I would highly recommend this excursion if you visit Costa Rica. It provided hours in the sun, an amazing lunch, snorkeling in a secluded spot, anchoring at a private beach cove, and views of the amazing sunset from the water. $20
7:00 p.m. – Once back in the room we shower and relax for a little while. Since we had a late lunch on the catamaran, we head to the dinner buffet around 8:00 p.m. to eat.
9:00 p.m. – After dinner we make our way to the show area to watch the entertainment show lined up for the evening.
10:15 p.m. – After the show is over, we head back to our room, and lights out around 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $39.00
8:00 a.m. – K’s alarm goes off and we get up and head to the breakfast buffet. Today we have the ATV Tour scheduled and were told to be in the lobby around 9:15 a.m.
9:45 a.m. – After a call to the company (They told me 9:15 via email but when we talked to the representative, she had 9:45 on her paperwork. Not a big deal, just a delay) the shuttle van picks us up around 9:45am. The ATV tour isn’t too far from our resort and we’re there in about 10 minutes.
10:00 a.m. – After a quick demonstration on how to use the semi-automatic ATV’s and a walk through of instructions on hand signals, we are off! Growing up riding ATV’s or “quads” as we call them, I am very comfortable with this excursion. Since K and I both wanted to be able to drive, we opted to each drive our own. However, they did have the option for one driver and one rider if you are not experienced or comfortable with driving yourself. We were a bit nervous for this ATV tour as a couple on the catamaran the day prior told us they did one that was entirely on the roads and not even on trails. But our tour was absolutely perfect. We ride through the hills on dirt paths, past cow farms, and to this secluded beach.
We have about 40 minutes to explore the beach, swim in the water, and relax before getting back on the ATV’s and making our way back to the starting point. We stop along the way numerous times so our guide can point out White Faced monkeys and Howler monkeys hanging in the trees. Our tour guide even revs his ATV which made the Howler monkeys howl!
1:15 p.m. – Wow! What an experience! We tip our tour guide. $20.00
1:30 p.m. – After a quick shuttle ride back to our hotel, we take showers (we are dirty from the ATV tour!), and head to the buffet for lunch.
3:00 p.m. – For the rest of the evening and night we walk around the resort, watch the sunset on the beach, grab dinner at the Asian style restaurant again, and watch the nightly entertainment show from 9:00-10:00 p.m.
10:30 p.m. – We’re back in the room, packing our bag, and heading to bed, as tomorrow we have another long exciting excursion planned!
Daily Total: $20.00
6:00 a.m. – We set the alarm early enough to wake up, get dressed, grab our bag we packed last night, snag a quick breakfast at the buffet, and head to the lobby. Today we are going on a full-day excursion of an all natural chocolate farm, lunch, and rainforest hike.
7:15 a.m. – The bus pulls up to our hotel and after we’re loaded and stop at the resort up the street, we’re on our way to the chocolate farm! Our tour guide is not only very informative but funny! He makes the 90-minute ride to the farm so entertaining!
10:00 a.m. – After a scenic drive to the farm, we are here! The tour of the Tree Chocolate Farm is truly unbelievable. It’s mind-blowing to see where chocolate comes from. Not only do we learn about the entire process of how they make their chocolate (all by hand!) but we learn about life on the chocolate farm in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The farmers put in a lot of hard work each day from getting up early, to hybrid-crossing plants to create the best-tasting chocolate, to planting new trees and clearing out old ones. They even hand-crank certain machines (each day!) to create the cocoa butter that gets combined with the cocoa powder to create the smooth cocoa. They also have to self-market their own farm so that tourists will come to visit, learn about their farm, and buy their amazing chocolate.
12:30 p.m. – The Tree Chocolate Farm has a little shop where we end up spending a bit of money on chocolate and a few souvenirs. K and I don’t like to buy T-shirts or keychains while on trips but we like to buy unique pieces that you can’t find in a tourist shop. K finds an intricate wall piece carved from wood (which was made by the neighbor next door to the farm) and I find a small wooden bowl made out of the trees found only in Costa Rica. $91.00
1:00 p.m. – After a quick 30-minute drive to our lunch spot, we have an amazing lunch surrounded by the rain forest, Howler monkeys, and nature. You can choose either chicken or fish with a side salad, dressings of your choice, and fresh fruit. Nothing extraordinary but it was just such good quality and so fresh.
2:00 p.m. – Once we’re all finished with lunch, our rainforest tour begins right behind where we ate lunch. We see Howler monkeys, sloths (mom and baby!), tree frogs, butterflies, snakes, flowers, exotic trees, and more. Not only do we get to see these rare sites but we learn about the environment in which they thrive, their lives, and what the country of Costa Rica does to allow nature to be as it should in their country. They do not live lavish lifestyles with big fancy homes as they value and treasure their land. So their homes are all small but optimal. The only large buildings in the areas we visited were either resorts or mansions owned by Americans, Canadians, and Europeans. They let the trees and plants grow as they should and try to not disturb the natural way of life of both flora and fauna. We tip our tour guide. $10
5:00 p.m. – After the rain forest tour is over, we’re back on the bus and headed to our resort. Both K and I agree that this was the best excursion we did all week and are so glad we booked it on a whim. We tip our driver and tour guide. $20.00
5:15 p.m. – Once back in our room, we shower and decide to relax a little while before heading to dinner.
7:00 p.m. – We decide to do a simple dinner at the buffet tonight and save the last restaurant at the resort for tomorrow (our last night here).
8:30 p.m. – Once we’re done with dinner we make our way over to the entertainment area, snag some seats, and watch the show.
10:00 p.m. – We’re back in our room and decide to get to sleep right away as tomorrow is our last full day in Costa Rica and we want to make the most of it!
Daily Total - $121.00
7:00 a.m. – K set his alarm last night so we could get up early and spend our last full day in Costa Rica doing as much as possible. After hitting snooze a few times, we finally get out of bed and get ready for the day.
8:00 a.m. – Neither of us is very hungry this morning so we wander around the resort looking for iguanas and decide to head to the beach early. We find a few down on the beach but they are mainly hiding in the trees and under bark this morning. We don't find any on the actual resort grounds. We snag some lounge chairs in the sun, slather on the sunscreen, and lay around talking about how amazing this trip has been: We've seen things we've never seen before, done things we've never done before, and how we will certainly be back to Costa Rica again one day. After getting a little too hot, we get in the water, watch the fish that always swim around us, and lay in the sun a little more.
10:30 a.m. – By now, our stomachs are both growling, so we head to the breakfast buffet to get some food. After we eat, we try to check the lobby for the representative that suggested the chocolate farm tour, as she wanted to hear our thoughts on it, but we can’t seem to find her anywhere.
11:00 a.m. – We go back to the beach, lay in the sun, swim in the ocean, and enjoy our time.
2:00 p.m. – After realizing we both got a little too much sun today, we head back to our room to change out of our suits and decide our plan for the rest of the day. We both agree to go find more monkeys down the beach so we change into some appropriate clothes (myself in a loose long sleeve shirt) and head out.
3:00 p.m. – We’re back in the same spot we were earlier this week and there are both Howler monkeys and White Faced monkeys hanging out in the trees! We end up talking to a gentleman that lives in the house behind the trees and he suggests to go down this path and into the trees a little more to find even more monkeys. So we follow his suggestion and wow: Not only are we the only people in this area, but there are probably 12-15 White Faced monkeys running around, playing, jumping through the trees, and eating some fruit from the trees. K and I spend over an hour in this area playing with the monkeys, literally feeding them from our hands (from the fruit in the trees they naturally eat), touching them (basically holding hands while they ate), and watching them in their natural habitat. K and I are both serious animal lovers so we’re in HEAVEN during this experience. We both took enough pictures and videos to clog our iClouds forever. Finally after about an hour, the monkeys seems to all slowly make their way across a path and onto somewhere else.
4:30 p.m. – We’re sad to see the monkeys go but know we just had the most insane experience of our lives. We’re also a tiny bit happy to get out of the woods as our legs have been eaten by bugs. They’re pretty brutal in Costa Rica!
5:00 p.m. – Once back to the resort we make our way over to the lunch buffet, eat, and I scratch my legs apart while at the table. I need to do some research about why I seem to get bit by bugs more than K (I think it has something to do with your blood type?). After we’re done eating I demand we head back to the room so I can shower in hopes my legs calm down. We relax in the room for a bit and look back through the videos and pictures we took with the monkeys. We still can’t believe we were holding hands with wild White Faced monkeys in Costa Rica!
6:00 p.m. – Since we are leaving tomorrow, we take a little bit of time to pack up the things we don’t immediately need for tonight/tomorrow. We both have a case of the vacation blues knowing that it’s coming to an end.
7:00 p.m. – We finally decide to get out of the room, walk around the resort, and head to the last restaurant that we haven’t eaten at this week. We put down our name for 8:00 p.m. (Since we just ate lunch around 5:00 p.m.) and head to the outdoor bar for a drink.
8:00 p.m. – Dinner at the steakhouse restaurant was really good and I’m a little bummed we didn’t eat here earlier in the week. Once we’re done with dinner, we do the usual nightly routine of watching the entertainment show and then head back to our room. It was a different show every night but to be honest, now I can't 100% remember each show but I remember a Rio (Disney Movie) show, a "Vegas" themed show, and an "Iconic Movies" show (with the dancers dressing up and dancing to the opening scenes of iconic movies like Star Wars).
10:00 p.m. – We do a little more packing before getting to bed. Tomorrow morning we’re going to wake up a little early and go explore the white sand beach we can see from our resort. You can only get there by going over this rough terrain hill or walking around the hill on rocks.
Daily Total: $0
6:00 a.m. – K set his alarm for 6:00 a.m. and we’re both up and ready to go explore for the last bit of time we have left. We get dressed and make our way down to the end of the beach and decided to hike up and over the hill. The view from the top of the hill is gorgeous: The black sand beach on one side (where our resort was) and the white sand beach on the other, along with the ocean. We’re bummed we didn’t think of doing this earlier in the week but we’re so glad we’re at least doing it while we’re here.
7:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. – At one end there is a huge hill mountain (not climbable) but the other end has a smaller hill (that we climb over) and huge rocks in the water (that we walk around/over to get back to the resort). Over the small hill and around the rocks was a white sand beach (Playa Blanca de Matapalo).
We spend about two hours on the white sand beach exploring, flipping over rocks, picking up shells, chasing crabs, and just enjoying our time before we decide to head back to the resort. On our way back, instead of going up and over the hill, we decide to go around the hill and climb on the rocks. This gives us a chance to also explore them and see what other interesting things we can find.
9:30 a.m. – After falling (only once!) on the rocks (myself, not K), we’re back in the room and getting showers. We decide to pack up the rest of our stuff and go grab a big breakfast before we have to check out and catch the shuttle back to the airport.
11:45 a.m. – We are in the lobby, go through the quick check out process, and find some chairs to wait for the shuttle van.
12:00 p.m. – The shuttle van arrives, stops at another hotel to pick up another couple, and we’re at the airport. ($10.00 tip). The Liberia airport is tiny (think Myrtle Beach airport if you’ve ever been) so we’re through customs, TSA, and at our gate in the matter of 20 minutes. Since our flight doesn’t board until 2:40 p.m., we decide on one last splurge and grab lunch at the Imperial Bar near our gate. We share chicken nachos and each have a beer. $47.50
2:45 p.m. – Our flight is starting the boarding process so K and I make our way closer. Once we’re on the plane and settled, we both connect to the in-flight WiFi and decide on movies to watch during our first flight.
8:00 p.m. (CDT) – We land in Dallas, are off the plane, and make our way through customs. After going through customs we have to find our gate for our flight to Chicago. Not only are we thoroughly confused and annoyed at how badly the airport is signed, but so is everyone else on our flight. Thankfully a custodian saves our day and directs us all to where we need to go.
9:00 p.m. – After waiting in an insane TSA line with a TSA agent screaming at everyone, we’re finally through and making our way to our gate. K and I both decide we’re hungry and part ways to get snacks. I stop at Auntie Ann’s and grab a pizza pretzel (I’m mentally still on vacation) and fill up my water bottle. $4.75
9:35 p.m. – Our flight is boarding and K and I, grumpy at this point, settle into our seats and pick a movie to watch on our last flight.
12:15 a.m. – Our flight lands at ORD, we’re off the plane, and like zombies, head for the L train to the city. This will be the quickest and cheapest way home. But alas, nothing ever goes to plan and there’s construction on a leg of the L so we are shuttled from the L to a bus that drives us to the next L stop. After waiting at the L stop for over 30 minutes, K and I are pissed at this point. We abort missing, get off the L, make our way to the street, and K gets a Lyft. What should have been an hour L ride home, took us over two hours. $23.56
2:30 a.m. – K and I are finally home, kiss our fur babies, brush our teeth, and hop right into bed.
Daily Total - $75.81
How did you prepare for this trip?
We knew we were going to go in the spring so the timing was either we go now in the spring or wait until September in the fall and we just wanted to go rather than wait. So I picked the end of the dry season in hopes that it wouldn't start raining while we were there and narrowed it down to the exact week with our work schedules and when we could take off. We researched best things to do while in Costa Rica on TripAdvisor
When did you book? Do you think you got a good deal?
We ended up going with BookIt because the same hotel for the same exact dates - and flights - offered on other sites was more. Like almost $500 each more. So we booked it as soon as we compared and realized the difference in price.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
No. We put the entire trip on my credit card as I get double cash back with every purchase. My boyfriend, K, Venmo’d me for his half and I used my savings account to pay for my half. I paid my credit card off in full for the month that contained this trip. I pay my credit card off, in full, every month to improve my credit and the month with this trip and trip-related purchases were no exception to that.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Our top three favorite things were the Tree Chocolate Tour, the ATV tour, and our own exploration with the monkeys near our resort.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
K says his lunch at Monkey’s Bar but I say the lunch provided to us by the Tree Chocolate Tour.
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
We don’t fall for these anymore as we’ve learned from the trips we’ve previously taken. We were very happy to see that our resort did not try to get you to do the whole time share meeting/breakfast thing that all the others we’ve stayed at have. This is most certainly a huge plus in staying at Riu resort.
Sometimes, upon arrival to the resorts, some will try to get you to do a "breakfast meeting" with them so they can show you around the resort and talk to you about everything they have to offer. A representative basically eats breakfast with you and tries to get to know you. And then they walk you around the resort and show you the "exclusive" rooms that only "members" are able to use. And then before you're done, they take you to their big office and talk prices with you. If you do 1 week with us a year it's X amount. If you do 2 weeks with us a year, it's Y amount. The offers seem great at first but they never include the flights to or from your home and they are limited to only the places where that resort is or where they have a "sister" resort. With us, we want to explore the world and these resorts don't offer destinations that we want to go. So we will never participate in one of these again.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Do not stay at your resort for the entire trip or you’ll truly be missing out on what the country has to offer. Your resort is not the best representation of the country. Get out and explore.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I wish we would have booked our excursions a day apart, like Monday, Wednesday, Friday rather than all in a row.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
Our resort was in the town of Carrillo in the Guanacaste Province. Yes, I would highly recommend staying here. I researched which side of Costa Rica is the best to visit (Caribbean or Pacific) for each season and for each month. With going in the spring, I read some articles and reviews on different websites about the Caribbean vs. Pacific side and the Pacific side had more to offer in terms of hotels, attractions, and “things to do.” The Caribbean side seemed to be smaller hotels, less excursions, and a more “laid back and relaxed” vibe. Since we wanted to explore, we chose the Pacific side.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
More excursions and exploration. K wanted to rent a car and drive to San José but with the other things we had planned, this just didn't work out. But we’re glad we had a nice balance between exploring and relaxing.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
We feel that we stayed the perfect amount of time. We were there longer than “a week,” which we planned on purpose but also not there too long that we felt exhausted at the end of the trip.
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