My Top 3 Excursions in Costa Rica

Brandi Gallaher is a student at Oklahoma State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Brandi is currently studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica on an ISA Fall 4 program.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.

This past weekend marked the end of our organized excursions with ISA. To me, it’s a bittersweet ending. I’m sad that I won’t have a completely planned out vacations every weekend, but I’m excited because this marks a new beginning in my study abroad experience. For the past month, although I’ve had the time of my life seeing the different regions of Costa Rica and relaxing by the beach, I have felt more like a tourist than a resident of Costa Rica. My ultimate goal of studying abroad was to be completely immersed in a new culture, and now I feel like the process of full immersion in the Tico lifestyle will truly commence.

I still plan on taking trips on the weekends, but now I will have to plan them all out by myself, and I will likely be staying in $15/night hostels rather than 5 star hotels with all meals included, as is the case with ISA. This will give more practice with my Spanish, as I have to set up transportation, get directions, barter with prices, and set up reservations. Also, since I won’t be with a group of 70 other VERY American students (instead, I’ll be with maybe 6-8 students), Ticos will be more likely to approach us, so hopefully I’ll make some new Tico friends in the process! I couldn’t be more excited for the crazy adventures that lie ahead for the next 2 months here in Costa Rica. However, with this chapter closing, I’d like to reflect on my experiences with the ISA excursions…

Excursion 1: Dominical
Dominical is a beach in the province Puntarenas in Costa Rica on the Pacific coast. It is known for its HUGE waves (which I experienced firsthand) as well as the part of the beach called Marino Ballena National Park, which is shaped like a whale tail and is a famous spot for whale watching. I did visit this part of the beach during the weekend, but unfortunately, since it is the rainy season, the whale tail was mostly under water and hard to see. However, we still had an amazing time walking, swimming, and relaxing on the gorgeous beach, and we even heard about some of the history from our Tico guide. We also stayed at a wonderful hotel called Hotel Rios del Mar which was about a 10 minute drive from the beach and local shops. One of my favorite things about this weekend was the amazing morning runs that I went on down the beach. So beautiful!

Repelling 165ft alongside a waterfall in Arenal

Excursion 2: Arenal
Arenal is an active volcano located in the province Alajuela in north-western Costa Rica. Here, we stayed at a beautiful resort that had pools, hot springs, butterfly and frog gardens, crocodiles, and an amazing view of the volcano. On Saturday morning, a group of us went canyoneering too! We repelled down 4 waterfalls that ranged in height from 50ft –  165ft! Of course the first one was the biggest, and my heart was racing like crazy as the guide let off the rope and I began to descend. We were able to control how fast we went, so at first I was really hesitant to let go of the rope and repel down, but the guide kept yelling “Let go of the rope!” so eventually I had to. By the end I was flying down the repels with no problem! It was so surreal being right next to these gorgeous waterfalls, and the view was spectacular! We also visited another big waterfall called La Fortuna which was absolutely amazing! We hiked down a mountain to get to the falls and we spent about an hour admiring the incredible scenery. I’d have to say, one of my favorite things about Costa Rica is all the colors. It’s unbelievable how vibrant everything is here. It doesn’t even compare to anything I’ve seen in the U.S.

Morning running visual at Tamarindo

Excursion 3: Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a famous beach in the province Guanacaste on the northwestern coast of Costa Rica. This was probably the most touristy place we went to this month. There were a lot of hotels and a lot of people from the U.S. It was probably also the most relaxing weekend too because we didn’t have any planned tours. We had free time all weekend to do whatever we want, which I actually preferred. So, I spent most of my time on the beach, relaxing, swimming, and taking TONS of pictures. I also enjoyed my morning runs on the beach, and saw a rainbow the first morning! Our hotel was right in front of the beach so it was very convenient, and there were tons of shops around as well. The only downside to this weekend was that most of us got really sun-burnt since Tamarindo is very close to the equator. By the end of the weekend I think my entire body was red even though I applied sunscreen almost every hour. :( It was definitely worth it though!

Here’s a list of some of the future excursions I would like to take on my own (not all listed):

  • Cartago – ancient capital of Costa Rica
  • Monteverde – Rainforests & zip-lining!!!
  • Puerto Viejo – Beach in Limón
  •  Manual Antonio – Beach in Puntarenas
  • Montezuma – Beaches and waterfalls
  • Downtown San José
  • Guayabo – Indigenous tribal town
  • Panama

3 thoughts

  1. I am a student at Okstate too. So happy I found someone else traveling and sharing their stories. I am taking online classes. At the same time I wish you could share more stories. Keep traveling and live your dream.

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